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Polls open in Israeli election

What happened: Just over five months after the 9 April election, Israelis are today heading to the polls again after the Knesset voted to dissolve itself after Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition. Polls indicate a tight race between Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc of parties led by the Likud, and the center-left opposition led by Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party.

  • The final day of the election yesterday saw all parties launch a blitz of interviews, text messages, phone campaigns and new social media content in an effort to rally their respective bases.
  • Netanyahu continued with his strategy of saturating the media and online news cycle via multiple interviews and online videos. In a bid for far-right voters, the Prime Minister promised in an interview to Kan Radio that he would annex the Hebron and Kiryat Arba settlements in the West Bank if he were re-elected.
  • Netanyahu also continued his direct attacks on his centrist rivals, claiming that they had promised Arab-Israeli politicians ministerial seats and that their policies would be “left wing.” In one Facebook video Netanyahu appeared with his American pollster who said latest reports showed left wing voters would turn out in higher numbers and were more motivated to vote.
  • Blue and White continued with its more conservative and defensive campaign. Gantz himself only appeared online to reject Netanyahu’s accusations that Gantz has politicised security threats, claiming the Prime Minister was the one who had done that.
  • Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party attempted to spur on its secular voter base by emphasising the large expected ultra-Orthodox turnout, while the two small left-wing parties – Democratic Union and Labour-Gesher – tried to increase support by warning that they were in danger of not getting the 3.25 per cent of the vote required to win seats in the Knesset.

Context: This election has been dominated by Netanyahu’s aggressive campaign tactics and overall control of the narrative: it is mostly a referendum on him and his track record in terms of international diplomacy and regional security, and conversely, for his opponents, his corruption case and his long hold on power.

  • Voter turnout will be decisive due to the potential apathy of the electorate just months after the last election. In particular Arab-Israeli turnout is believed to be key: in April it hit a historic low of 49 percent, compared to 63 percent in the 2015 election.
  • Smaller parties on the right (Jewish Power) and left (Democratic Union and Labor-Gesher) are in danger of not winning any seats if they fail to get 3.25 per cent of the vote. If Jewish Power win 4 seats or one of the left wing parties wins no seats, that could swing the election.
  • Depending on the results, Liberman could prove to be the kingmaker in any future coalition arrangement. It was his refusal to join Netanyahu’s right-wing/religious government in May that triggered this repeat election. He is currently predicted to win 8 to 10 seats, an increase from five in April.​​​​​​​

Looking ahead: The key question after the polls close tonight is whether Netanyahu and his right-wing allies can reach 61 seats – a parliamentary majority – without the support of Liberman’s party. Last time this bloc was only short by 1400 votes (out of 4 million cast) because one small right-wing party didn’t win any seats. Barring that, various scenarios could emerge of a possible national unity government between Likud, Blue and White, and Yisrael Beitenu – with the key question here whether Netanyahu stays on as Likud leader if, again he can’t form a governing coalition. Not even Blue and White truly believe they will have an option to form a centre-left government.