The exit polls are in and the approximate size of the various parties is known. However, there have been surprises in the past. The exit polls are exactly that: polls. They have a much larger sample and are much closer to reality than the pre-election polls, because they are taken from actual voters, but they are still polls. The final results will be in on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the central election committee website has a page with the number of votes counted so far. The page updates in real time every few minutes. At 00:38 Israel time (time and date of the latest update appear at the top), 450,863 votes had been counted, which is roughly equivalent to 15 Knesset seats.
If you are an overseas reader and would like to get updates from the page, here is a quick explanation.
The top five boxes, from right to left, represent the total number of eligible voters, the total number of votes counted so far, “voting percentage of the votes counted” (I am guessing that it is referring to the number of eligible voters which actually voted, of the ballot boxes already counted), total number of valid votes and total number of invalid votes.
When voting in Israel, one gets an envelope and goes behind the curtain. There is a box with notes with combinations of letters on them. Each combination represents a party. To vote, you must put the note with your party’s letters on it into the envelope. An invalid vote is a vote in which there is either more than one note in the envelope, or a blank note, or a note with letters not representing any of the parties etc.
The columns, from right to left represent the party name, the party letters (which appear on the ballot notes), the percentage of votes they have received so far and the number of votes they have received so far.
The letters for the 14 largest parties are as follows:
Likud + Yisrael Beiteinu- מחל
Yesh Atid- פה
Jewish Home- טב
Yahadut Hatorah- ג
The Movement (Tzipi Livni)- צפ
Strong Israel- נץ
Am Shalem- ץ
You can find the party by its letters on the website in order to see how many votes the party has so far.
The exit polls are unlikely to be exact, but for the sake of this post, let us assume that they are.
Who are the winners? Who are the losers?
Yair Lapid- Yesh Atid
Seats in 18th Knesset: 0. Seats in 19th Knesset: 18-19.
The biggest winner of this election is Yair Lapid and his newly formed party, Yesh Atid. Lapid is a journalist. He is good at writing long columns and telling people what they like to hear. He has, however, no experience in management or politics. He never even finished his Bagrut (highschool graduation tests). His election platform promised utopia: Lapid described to the people what he would like the country to look like, and the masses who were tired of all the old politicians followed.
Lapid announced his intentions to join politics at the beginning of the Knesset’s summer session, when it seemed like the Knesset would disband and head to elections. Initial polls predicted almost 20 seats for Lapid. But Netanyahu and Mofaz took the wind out of Lapid’s sails when they announced that Kadima would join the government, thus averting the need for early elections. Lapid lost his momentum and sunk in the polls over time. Polls right before the election spoke of 11-12 seats. Now Lapid has 18-19 seats. Most of the people on his list are anonymous and were not even looked at by the media, because they were considered to be unrealistic. The first five after Lapid are relatively known and include a relatively modern orthodox Rabbi, the former mayor of Hertzliya (city just north of Tel Aviv), the former mayor of Dimona (town in the Negev), a former chief of the Shin-Bet and another journalist. The other 12-13 are unknowns.
Naftali Bennet- Jewish Home
Seats in 18th Knesset: 3 (+2) Seats in 19th Knesset: ~12
The Jewish Home party was a dying horse. It was the party representing the National-Religious community, populated by successful but tired and grey politicians. Moreover, the party had for many years been resisting adopting primary elections. Prior to the elections to the 18th Knesset, the party attempted to build a new image. They changed their name from the National Religious Party (NRP) to the “Jewish Home” and held an online poll to form the party’s list. However, the final list was formed by a committee of rabbis, disregarding the online poll. The party succeeded in getting only 3 members into the Knesset, an all-time low for a party past its prime.
But then Naftali Bennet, former aide to Benjamin Netanyahu, along with Ayelet Shaked, also a former aide to Netanyahu, swept in and convinced the party’s leaders to allow a primary election for the first time ever. This was a huge mistake for the old party leaders, but the best decision they had made for the party in years. Bennet and Shaked spent the next few months travelling the country, gathering support, while the old regime was busy in the Knesset summer session. A few months later, Bennet and Shaked, who gained the support of MK Uri Orbach, completely took over the party.
Bennet merged the party with Tkuma, the more-moderate section of the far right “National Unity” party, and together they have succeeded in bringing the merged party to more than double its previous size.
Likud centered its campaign against the Jewish Home, because they share the same support base, but the campaign backfired and only made the Jewish Home stronger. But don’t let the election animosity between the parties fool you: the two parties have a surplus agreement, meaning that if, for instance, Likud has enough votes for 31.6 seats and Jewish home has enough for 12.4 seats, the votes can be combined in order to give one of the parties a full extra seat.
Labor- Shelly Yachimovtich
Seats in 18th Knesset: 8 (+5) Seats in 19th Knesset: ~17
Labor was once the all-encompassing, omnipotent party, which ruled Israel for 29 years straight, from the state’s foundation in 1948 to 1977. But ever since that historical “revolution” of 1977, when Likud came to power for the first time under Menachem Begin, Labor has been in a slow decline. Labor reached an all-time low during the 18th Knesset, when Ehud Barak, the former leader of Labor and once Prime Minister, broke off from the pitifully small party along with four other members and formed “Atzmaut” (Independence), leaving Labor with a ridiculously small group of 8 members.
But Shelly Yachimovitch, who became the new party leader, succeeded in raising the party out of the ashes. She capitalized on the social protest movement of the summer of 2011, brought the young people into the party and allowed them to become the driving force, as well as the moral compass of the newly reborn Labor Party. Two of the new MKs-to-be are former student leaders of the social protest.
Seventeen seats is nowhere near the party’s former glory, but it is an impressive rebound.
Meretz- Zehava Gal’on
Seats in 18th Knesset: 3 Seats in 19th Knesset: 6-7
Another winner of these elections is the far-Left party, Meretz. The party which had only three seats in the 18th Knesset, and held nearly-silent primaries, the results of which were drowned out by the outbreak of operation “Pillar of Defense”, somehow succeeded in doubling its strength. A possible explanation for this is that, with Kadima’s disintegration, most of Kadima’s potential voters switched over to Lapid, being the new “Center Party”, but many of Kadima’s leftwing supporters, instead of returning to a moderate-Left party, such as Labor, preferred to go for a “sure deal” and support Meretz, in light of Shelly Yachimovitch’s refusal to make a clear stand against settlements and in favor of concessions to the Palestinians.
Kadima- Shaul Mofaz
Seats in 18th Knesset: 28 Seats in 19th Knesset: 0
The biggest loser of this election is Shaul Mofaz. Mofaz succeeded in wresting control of the party away from Tzipi Livni, only to run the party into the ground; from being the biggest party in the Knesset, to oblivion in a matter of one year.
The decline began with Tzipi Livni’s refusal to accept defeat and her decision to “quit politics” when she lost to Mofaz. The trickle became an avalanche when Mofaz joined Netanyahu’s government at the start of the 2012 summer session. When the elections became a reality at the start of the winter session, all hell broke loose and MKs started transferring out as fast as they could. Of the original 28, approximately 8 remained. Two members moved to Labor and competed in the primaries there, receiving the 14th and 19th slots. Four other members competed in Likud’s primaries, but only one got in. One of the four then proceeded to run in a third party, Kalkala, which so far has 1398 votes, or 0.05% (the counting of the votes is ongoing). Seven others broke off from the party to join Tzipi Livni, taking their election funding with them. Of the seven, only two were given slots which may be realistic.
But in reality, Kadima’s decline began the day it was formed. It was a party destined to failure, being the “bastard child” of Labor and Likud. Labor and Likud are almost complete opposites, yet Kadima claimed to be a “center party” made up of members of both. What it really was, was a party of irreconcilable differences of ideology, heading both ways and nowhere at the same time.
So where did Kadima’s 28 seats go? Most of them went to Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni. Some of them returned to Labor. Some more may have returned to Likud, only to be swept away by Naftali Bennet. All I can say is good riddance.
The Jury is still out…
As for Likud, the jury is still out, and will continue to be out for quite a while. The numbers say that Likud lost. Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu merged their combined power of 42 seats just before the election, only to emerge 11 seats slimmer. The primaries in Likud were especially brutal, with 27 MKs fighting to be one of the 20 to receive a realistic slot on the party’s list. As it looks now, not even all of those 20 are going to continue for another term.
However, Likud is still the largest party, even without Yisrael Beiteinu, but by a very small margin. On its own, Likud will have 20 seats, just slightly more than Lapid and Yachimovitch.
The true battle begins
As the dust settles on the election battlefield, the true and even bigger battle will begin, to decide the identity of the Prime Minister. Netanyahu had hoped for a decisive victory, which would make it easy for him to form a government. The results show otherwise.
For Netanyahu to become Prime Minister for another term, he must now gather at least 61 MKs to form a coalition. To do this, he must negotiate over the general lines of the new government’s policies and over the distribution of government ministries among his coalition partners.
But the results allow more than one outcome of such negotiations:
1. Coalition of the Right and Ultra-Orthodox:
Likud + Yisrael Beiteinu- 31, Jewish Home- 12, Shas- 11-13, Yahadut Hatorah- 6 = ~61
This would be a narrow and relatively unstable government. Any party in the coalition would have the power to topple the government. Its policies would be “more of the same”, but slightly further to the right, because it does not include Ehud Barak’s “Atzmaut” and it does include a stronger Jewish Home. It would also mean the Ultra-Orthodox have veto power over any solution for the problem of Army Service for their community.
2. Coalition of the Right, Ultra-Orthodox and Lapid:
Likud+Yisrael Beiteinu-31, Jewish Home-12, Shas- 11-13, Yahadut Hatorah- 6, Lapid- 18-19= ~80
This would be Netanyahu’s preferred choice of coalition. Lapid’s party is equal in weight to the two Ultra-Orthodox parties, and as opposing sides will keep each other in check. Neither side would be able to extort concessions from Netanyahu at the other’s expense, and they would have to work together in order to reach solutions which both sides can agree upon. The downside is that Lapid’s party is made up entirely of people who have no former experience in national politics. Many of them would become ministers in the government. Scary.
3. Left wing coalition with the Ultra-Orthodox:
Lapid- 18-19, Labor- 17, Tzipi Livni- 6-7, Meretz- 6-7, Shas- 11-13, Yahadut Hatorah- 6= 64-67
This scenario is highly unlikely, but it is a possibility. It is unlikely for two reasons: One, because Yachimovitch is unlikely to agree to be second to Yair Lapid and Lapid is too inexperienced to let go of his newly inflated ego and let Yachimovitch lead. And two, the parties on the Left have made the recruitment and integration of the Ultra-Orthodox community a main priority in their platforms. They are also traditionally non-religious or even anti-religious. Therefore, it is unlikely that the Ultra-Orthodox parties would join such a coalition.
4. “National Unity” government:
Likud+Yisrael Beiteinu- 31, Lapid- 18-19, Labor 17, Tzipi Livni- 6-7 = ~74
This is the most unlikely scenario. Of the three party leaders on the left, Lapid is the only one who did not explicitly say that he would not join a government led by Netanyahu. Yachimovitch and Livni have stated that they would not join such a government, but they’re politicians, so things change. If, by some miracle, Netanyahu did manage to convince Yachimovitch and Livni by giving up on most of his core beliefs, the Ultra-Orthodox parties might join as well, in order to have some say in policy and to “sweeten the pill”. Naftali Bennet, of the Jewish Home would most likely not join such a government and would rather be a fighting, yet ineffective opposition.
When the final results are in on Thursday, the President will meet with all of the party leaders, who will suggest their preferred candidate for Prime Minister. President Peres will then decide who has the best chances of forming a coalition and ask that person to do so. It is highly unlikely that that person will not be Netanyahu. Netanyahu will then have 28 days, which may be extended up to 14 additional days to come to an agreement with the other parties and present a government. The Knesset will then vote confidence in the new government.
The closer the deadline, the more difficult the negotiations will be, because if Netanyahu is unable to form a coalition, the task will be passed on to the next candidate. To add to his difficulties, the agreement between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu to merge their two parties is in effect for only 30 days after the elections, meaning that after that, Netanyahu will no longer have the automatic backing of 31 MKs, but rather 20.
While I have been writing this post, another 2.2 million votes have been counted and registered. The *almost* final results should be available in a few hours. There will be a few thousand more votes to count, belonging to soldiers and sailors, which are counted separately.
According to the current results, Kadima may just make it past the 2% threshold. Strong Israel has 1.65% of the votes Am Shalem has 1.21%. However, 4.24% of the votes went to smaller parties and will not be counted towards the 2% threshold, which may be just enough to propel Strong Israel and Am Shalem past the 2% threshold. We will know soon enough.
In regard to my 4 scenarios above, if they do get in, Am Shalem would most likely join any of the four scenarios, Strong Israel would not join any of them, and Kadima is an unknown. They may decide to remain with the Left bloc in order to regain favor, or they may decide to join the government in order to enjoy their last years in politics as ministers.
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