Last Tuesday, January 22, Israelis held elections for their 19th Knesset (120-seat Parliament) and yesterday Israeli President Shimon Peres was presented with the official election results from the Central Elections Committee Chairman. President Peres will meet with leaders of each party before assigning one the task of forming a new coalition government. Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose party won the most seats in the election, is expected to form the next coalition. However, analysts have predicted several possible coalition scenarios.
Below is a chart showing the number of seats won by the parties:
Likud-Beiteinu (right-wing, led by Benjamin Netanyahu in coalition with Avigdor Lieberman)
Yesh Atid (centrist, led by Yair Lapid)
Labor (left-wing, led by Shelly Yachimovich)
Jewish Home (right-wing, led by Naftali Bennett)
Shas (right wing)
3 Arab parties (left wing)
United Torah Judaism (right wing)
Hatnuah (center left, led by Tzipi Livni)
Kadima (center left)
Right-wing parties (combined)
Center/Left-wing parties (combined)
President Peres stated that he would facilitate the establishment of a government based on the choices of the Israeli people, while also allowing all parties to be heard. "I will make an effort to do this with the necessary urgency while allowing each faction to state its positions," he said. "I consider this a great privilege and an explicit duty."
The election process in Israel is completely different than in the United States. In Israel, which is a parliamentary democracy, voters vote only for the legislative branch—the Knesset—and do not vote for the executive branch. Despite the focus on individual candidates, Israelis vote only for a party, not a person. The ballot is the same in every ballot box in Israel. Each party is represented on the ballot by a long list of candidates for that party's slate. Voters do not choose who occupies slots on a party's slate.
In Israel, the entire country is one voting bloc; every vote holds equal weight and there are no separate voting districts like in the United States. The 120 Knesset seats are assigned in proportion to the percentage of votes won by each party (with the caveat that a party must win a minimum of 2% of the national vote in order to secure its first seat). Thus, Israeli elections do not have "winners" and "losers." In this election, for example, Likud-Beiteinu received only 23% of the vote, but won the largest percentage of votes and therefore the most seats in the Knesset.
Technically speaking, an Israeli government is formed if a single party wins a majority of Knesset seats (at least 61 out of 120). However, under Israel's electoral system, it is very difficult for any one party to win 61 seats in the Knesset and, to date, no party has ever done so. Generally, Israeli governments are formed when the party that wins the largest Knesset representation achieves a majority of seats by joining in coalition with other parties. But, this is not always the case, as the law requires the President to poll the heads of the parties in the Knesset on whom they each think should form the government, and then choose someone to form the government from those recommendations. Thus, it may be that the President chooses a person to form a government whose party did not win the most Knesset seats. In all cases, Israeli governments are coalitions, with those parties remaining outside the coalition making up the opposition.
Once President Peres meets with the party leaders and appoints someone to form a government, that party leader will have 28 days to do so. The party leader can ask for that term to be extended for another 14 days if needed. If that person is unsuccessful, Peres will choose another person who will have an opportunity to try to form a government. Whoever is successful in forming the government will become the Prime Minister. While the government may be formed quickly, it could also be up to six weeks before Israel will know what its government will look like and who will be its next Prime Minister.
Despite initial reports that votes were spilt evenly between both wings, the final tallies showed that the right-wing has a slight majority (61-59). The second largest block was won by the new centrist party Yesh Atid (There is a Future), which focused its campaign heavily on domestic and economic issues. Following the election, the leaders of Likud-Beiteinu and Yesh Atid spoke to these results and pledged to form a broad coalition.
Likud-Beiteinu leaders, Prime Minister Netanyahu and second in command Avigdor Liberman, made statements that the new government would also focus on social issues such as affordable housing, expanding mandatory military service, and changing the system of government.
Prime Minister Netanyahu: We woke up this morning to a clear message from the public: it wants me to form a government that will bring about great internal changes. I spoke to Avigdor Liberman and we decided that we will focus our talks on these three core issues, in addition to maintaining Israel's security, in an effort to build as broad a coalition as possible.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid: I call on the leaders of the political establishment to work with me together, to the best of their ability, to form as broad a government as possible that will contain moderate forces from the left and right, the right and the left, so that we will truly be able to bring about real change.
Had the votes been even, there may have been a possibility that the left wing could form a coalition or force a new election. With the right wing in the majority, and Likud-Beinteinu substantially receiving the highest percentage of votes, it is extremely likely that Netanyahu will remain Prime Minister. In theory, Netanyahu could form a coalition with all the right-wing parties. However, Yesh Atid has endorsed Netanyahu and will likely join the coalition. Right-wing party Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi), led by Naftali Bennett, also endorsed Netanyahu. Both parties campaigned hard on the issue of military service by the ultra-orthodox community; however they have stark differences on many other issues. In order to form the coalition, each participating party must negotiate and agree on the division of leadership positions. Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi have both started voicing their preferences, including the coveted Finance Committee Chair, Education Ministry, and Housing and Construction Ministry.
The right-wing ultra-orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, which were members of Netanyahu's coalition in the last Knesset, are negotiating together as a block of 18 seats. Netanyahu could successfully form a coalition without these parties, however the larger the coalitions the more stable his government will be. The ultra-orthodox parties are working together to limit the influence of Yesh Atid, but are reportedly in negotiations to reach a compromise regarding orthodox military service.
Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich, whose party received the third highest number of votes, has pledged to be "a fighting opposition like none other" to Netanyahu's coalition. Many are interested in decision of Tzipi Livni, Former Kadima Leader and Foreign Affairs Minister, who formed her own center-left party Hatnuah last November. Hatnuah only received six votes, but could be another center-left element to bolster Yesh Atid in the coalition.
Below are several media analyses of the election results. All opinions are those of the author, and not endorsed by Hadassah in any way.