Latest election results suggest political stalemate

What happened: With 87 per cent of the votes counted the results so far appear inconclusive.

  • Initial exit polls last night predicted a narrow win for Likud and the pro-Netanyahu bloc. However, latest tallies this morning are suggesting a 59-61 swing in favour of the anti-Netanyahu bloc.
  • With 87 per cent of the actual votes counted the results stand: Likud 30 seats, Yesh Atid 17, Shas 9, Blue & White 8, Labour 7, Yamina 7, United Torah Judaism 7, Yisrael Beiteinu 7, Joint List 6, Religious Zionists Party 6, New Hope 6, Meretz 5 and Raam 5.
  • The Likud will be the largest single party in the next Knesset. Prime Minister Netanyahu said last night that the Likud had achieved an incredible accomplishment but refrained from declaring victory. He said that he would spare no effort over the next few days to form a stable government and said that he would not rule out anyone.
  • Yair Lapid the leader of Yesh Atid said that he was proud of his party’s achievement and the fact that it had been done responsibly and had not taken down any other party in the bloc for change. He said that Netanyahu does not have 61 seats in the Knesset as of this moment, but the bloc for change does. Lapid said further that he had begun talks with the leaders of the bloc and that he would do anything to form a sane government.
  • Yamina leader Naftali Bennett appeared non-committal as to whom he will support for prime minister, he told supporters, “Now is the time to heal and heal the rifts within the nation. Under the power you have entrusted in me, I will act with only one guiding principle: what is good for Israel.”
  • New Hope leader Gideon Saar said that he and his colleagues had done the best they could under adverse conditions. We are the only new party that was founded prior to this election and that made it into the Knesset. He reiterated his pledge not to join a government led by Netanyahu.
  • Defence Minister Benny Gantz and leader of Blue and White said that some had eulogised him, but he had chosen to fight to keep serving Israel and to be part of its leadership. Gantz pledged to do all he could to unite the “bloc for change” and to lead to a different government.
  • Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman said that he had not given up on the path and the objective of forming a liberal Zionist government. He suggested waiting until the double envelopes have been counted because it is a close fight, of which those votes could the current tallies upside down.

Context: There was concern how the coronavirus and voter apathy would affect the turnout. In the end, turnout was 67.2 per cent, with 4,420,677 out of 6,578,084 eligible voters voting.  This is a 4.3 per cent drop from the last election and the lowest turnout since the 2013 election, which was 66.6 per cent.

  • While we wait for the final results, the Likud party is the largest single party, attesting to the relative popularity of Prime Minister Netanyahu, but this may not be enough to form the next government.
  • Theoretically if the pro-Netanyahu bloc (Likud + Shas + UTJ + Religious Zionists) with the addition of Yamina is able to reach 61 seats, they could form a narrow right-wing government. However, this scenario is not possible with the current tally (at 87.5 per cent), and if the final results were to remain unchanged, Netanyahu would need the support of another party.
  • The pathway for Lapid to form the next government is also complicated by the incompatibility within the anti- Netanyahu camp. For example, New Hope, Yamina and Yisrael Beiteinu will not sit with the Joint List and Raam, both of which will be needed to reach 61-seats.
  • Furthermore, Lapid is not guaranteed to receive enough support to become prime minister. During the campaign Saar and Bennett both refused to endorse him as a potential prime minister.
  • The provisional results reflect the relative success of centre-left parties that according to the polls were in danger of crossing the four-seat threshold. Meretz and Labour combined are on course to win 12 seats, up from 7 last year. Blue and White have also faired substantially better than predicted.
  • The far-right Religious Zionists are also doing better than expected, as their endorsement by Netanyahu paid dividend and cut into the support of Yamina, New Hope and UTJ.
  • If Raam, the (Islamist) United Arab List, do make it over the threshold, they could be kingmakers, but it is not clear if they will support Netanyahu or one of his rivals. This morning, Mansour Abbas, the leader of Raam told Israeli radio: “We are willing to negotiate with both sides, with anyone interested in forming a government and who views themselves as a future prime minister. If there is an offer, we’ll sit and talk.” He has already spoken with Yair Lapid this morning and the pair agreed to meet soon.
  • If Netanyahu does not have a clear path to 61 seats after final results are counted, there will be a flurry of behind-the-scenes negotiations between the parties to assemble a viable alternative.

Looking ahead: Due to coronavirus there are around 450,000 ‘double envelope’ votes that will take longer to count, and the full results may not be available till later this week.

  • At this point several parties have stated they will do all they can to avoid a fifth election.
  • The official election results will only be presented to President Rivlin next Wednesday. From then, the president has seven days to hold consultations with all the party leaders and decide on whom to entrust with forming a government, no later than Wednesday 7 April.
  • Whichever leader is assigned to try and form a government will have 28 days to enter negotiations and present a viable coalition.

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