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First Results - Israeli Election Surprises

03/29/2006

Judging from exit polls results of three Israeli TV channels, the Israeli elections were a bit of a surprise. The Kadima party of Ehud Olmert got the most mandates as predicted, but its victory is smaller than expected: about 29-32 seats. The Labor party got 20-22 seats. Following is full list and some observations.

Kadima.............29-32
Labor...............20-22
Pensioners...........7-8
Meretz...................5
Shas.................10-11 (Sephardi ultra-orthodox)
Yisrael Beitenu ...12-14 (Avigdor Lieberman's party)
Likud ................11-12
NRP/NU ................7-9 (National Union and National Religious Party)
Yahadut Hatora.........6 (Ashkenazi ultra-prthodox)
Arab Lists..............6-8

The Kadima party should have no trouble forming a coalition, if they so desire, with Labor, Meretz and the Pensioners party, and perhaps with Shas. Shas is opposed to the disengagement plan proposed by Olmert however. Experience shows that the religious parties, especially Shas, usually get a higher percentage of votes in the actual count than they do in the exit polls, and they might be a force to be reckoned with.

Only 63.2% of eligible voters participated, the lowest percentage in history. Official results will not be known for about two weeks apparently, because drunks burned all the ballots of a tiny Arab town near Acco. Under Israeli law, if Ehud Olmert, currently acting as "substitute" Prime Minister, cannot form a government in 17 days, it will be necessary to appoint him acting prime minister due to the incapacity of Ariel Sharon. Therefore, coalition talks will begin as soon as next Sunday, without waiting for the final tally.

Though Kadima is clearly the leading party, their lead is significantly less than the number of mandates originally forecast for them, which ranged as high as 44. Labor under Amir Peretz managed to keep their strength approximately and will most likely be a member of the coalition, assuring the continued leadership of Amir Peretz.

The Likud suffered what is by all indications a catastrophe. The disintegration of the Likud is almost entirely the personal responsibility of Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu led the revolt against Ariel Sharon that triggered formation of the Kadima party, and Netanyahu is also blamed for the draconian economic policies that the Likud instituted. These policies led the Israeli public to say for the first time in history that social (economic) issues are more important than security questons, and to give about 8 mandates to the pensioners party. Not all these votes came from old people apparently.

Amir Peretz, leader of the Labor party, had his fingers on the pulse of the Israeli people when he declared a social revolution. He understood that there is social ferment, but he did not have the political skills to exploit it to the full and use it to bring the Labor party back into power. If the next government does not give priority to social issues and redress the very real and growing economic injustice in Israeli society, the will of the people will be frustrated. On the other hand, if the will of the Israeli voter is frustrated, it won't be the first time it ever happened. Attention to economic issues must go hand in hand with the disengagement plan. Israel cannot continue to invest huge sums in development and defense of the West Bank settlements if it wants to devote resources to development towns, infrastructure, education, social welfare and much needed, and often promissed, amelioration of the status of Arab Israelis.

Many changes have occurred and will occur in the Israeli political map, which is both interesting and alarming. There is no longer one large and clearly dominant party. The centrist Shinui party, which once vowed to stop the rise of the ultraorthodox parties and seemed to be on the way to doing so, has self-destructed. The leader of the third largest party, Avigdor (Yvette) Lieberman, is a man who suggested bombing the Aswan High Dam and now masquerades as a moderate. He "promises" that his party will be the largest party after the next elections, and there is certainly a chance his party might absorb the Likud. Stranger things have happened in politics. The Meretz party is apparently slowly dwindling into insignificance, despite its excellent parliamentarians. The Labor party, the historic leaders of Israeli society now fallen into disrepair, has changed hands and might, despite all odds, be on the way to rejuvenation. The Likud, though always led by European Jews primarily, has traditionally been a "home" for Jews from Arab countries ("Mizrachi"), while the Labor party, also led by European Jews, has traditionally been the party of the founding European Jewish (Ashkenazi) elite of Israel. However, these distinctions are now going by the wayside. Amir Peretz is the first Jew of non-European origin to lead the Labor party, and it is probably that he brought a large number of non-European voters to the party. On the other hand, much of the Mizrachi following of the Likud apeears to have migrated to the Shas party, Kadima party and elsewhere.

The largest party, Kadima, is a rather artificial amalgam of politicians that got its lead in part because of the special situation created by the split with the Likud. The Likud will undergo further aftershocks because it has clearly lost any hope of dominating the Israeli political scene in its present form. It is likely that the present constellation is unstable. The real story will be in the development of more permanent political alliances in the next few years.
Ami Isseroff

Update:
Following are actual results from over 99% of the precincts (not counting votes of soldiers and diplomats):

Kadima................28
Labor..................20
Shas...................13
Yisrael Beiteinu......12
Likud...................11
National Union-NRP..9
Pensioners party.....7
Yahadut Hatora......6
Meretz..................4
Arab parties..........10

Kadima's "poll lead" was trimmed even more than appeared from exit polls. As I predicted, Shas will get more mandates in reality than they got in the exit polls. The real results seem to emphasize the change: there is no single large party that dominates the Israeli political landscape.

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000443.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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