Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Israel's Elections - What We Know So Far

Israelis went to the polls today for the first time since 2009 to elect a parliament.  Voter turnout was 66.6%, slightly higher than the last time around.  Israeli television and social media are abuzz with speculation about what the next coalition in the Knesset will look like.  This speculation is likely to shift throughout the night and into tomorrow as new election results come in (as of 5:45pm Washington time about 56% of the votes have been counted).  At present there are three things we can say with any measure of confidence about the results of these elections.

1) Yesh Atid will be a kingmaker. A January 18th poll put Yesh Atid at 11 seats in Israel's 120-seat Knesset, but exit polling has the party winning nearly twice as many as that (18-19).  If correct, these numbers put Yesh Atid in an extremely powerful position.  In Israeli politics, the second most powerful party can make or break a coalition and has a huge impact on its policy agenda.
2) The coalition building process will be drawn out.  While its possible Yesh Atid's leader, Yair Lapid, could let inexperience get the best of him, it's in his interest to proceed slowly.  Both Likud Beiteinu (the projected winner of tonight's elections) and Labor (likely to be in the opposition) will try to woo the party.  It's worth it to Lapid to wait and see what prominence he can get in either the government or the opposition.  It's also worth waiting to see what policy items he can ensure from both sides.

3) Israel's center remains politically relevant.  Ironically one of the most certain outcomes of the election is also the most surprising.  In earlier posts on this blog I described how Prime Minister Netanyahu made a calculation that the center of Israel's political spectrum would fracture.  It appears the parties are fractured.  However, it also appears that Yesh Atid was able to gain the vote of enough centrist Israeli voters to be a politically relevant actor.  Yesterday, political relevance was Yair Lapid's best-case scenario.  Today, it's the minimum he can expect as the leader of Yesh Atid.

The question now remains how much influence he will have, and how aggressively he and the Yesh Atid party will pursue incentives and concessions from the other parties before determining whether to join the government or the opposition.