The What of the Israeli Election…

… and Why it always ends in a coalition government.

Most media coverage ahead of Tuesday’s vote for the 20th Israeli Parliament has asked ‘Is this the end for Bibi Netanyahu?’ Answer? Well, I’ll tell you next month, but here’s why, even if his Likud Party does not win the most seats, he might still end up Prime Minister.

For the purposes of the national election the whole country is regarded as one constituency.

The 5,881,696 eligible voters do not vote for a candidate, but for a list of candidates from a party or a coalition of parties. As there are 120 seats at stake, theoretically a party could have 120 candidates on the list.(Some rather optimistically do..) If it won 100% of the vote, all 120 candidates on the party list would then take the 120 seats in the Knesset.

In reality there are always several parties represented in the Knesset and the only candidates on a list who stand a chance of getting in are those towards the top. The polls suggest the biggest party will win about 25 seats, so if you are 26th on your party’s list, you might as well start planning your holidays.

This year 25 lists will be presented at the 10,000 + voting stations, plus a blank ‘list’ in case you prefer to register a ‘none of the above’ vote.

There was going to be 26 lists but the one man band ‘Protect Children–Stop Feeding Them Pornography’ Party withdrew last week.

Each party, or grouping of parties, must win at least 3.25% of the entire vote in order to be represented in Parliament. The number of seats you win is in proportion to the percentage of votes your list receives.

Voting day is a national holiday, and the Israeli public are politically engaged so a healthy turnout of between 60% and 80% is normal. Arabs, Jews, and Christian Israeli citizens can all vote, but Israelis living abroad must return to the country if they wish to cast a ballot.

To form a viable government you need 61 seats, but as no party is going to achieve that, there will be a coalition government. Eventually.

The leader of the party with the most seats consults with other party leaders and tries to put together an alliance of 61 seats.

At the moment the polls suggest the biggest party will be the centre left bloc called Zionist Union co-led by Isaac Herzog. If it was to win, say, 25 seats, and then talk to the two other main left of centre parties – Meretz and Yesh Atid – together they might accumulate 41 seats, still 20 short of 61. So Herzog would then have to talk to other parties he felt he could do business with, for example the soft right of centre Kulanu. Now he’s heading towards 61. At this point he can promise the earth, and heaven, to the religious parties, who despite not being natural bedfellows, might come into government if the price was right – and voila – a workable majority.

But, dependent on results, Bibi will be doing some counting as well. If Likud got 20 seats, then the other right of centre party seats takes him to about 46/47 – then Bibi goes to the religious and – again voila – a workable majority. That’s actually an easier process than the compromises which the left of centre will require to get the majority.

This process is supposed to be done within 42 days. If and when it is complete, the Knesset approves it and the leader of the biggest party in the coalition is Prime Minister.

This is why in Israeli elections, you never just look at your own share of the vote; you look at that of your opponents and immediately translate it into seats. Then you do the maths.

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