Exclusively covering the election for The Jewish Weekly is weekly columnist JAMES MARLOW with the election results for March 2021 and his MARLOW REPORT:
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
The Central Elections Committee confirmed they will present the official and final results for the March 2021 Election, to President Reuven Rivlin by Friday afternoon. Therefore as The Jewish Weekly goes to press, the exact number of seats for each party, may change slightly, according to the proportion of voters and the 120 Knesset seats.
Next week the President will begin meeting with the heads of all the 13 parties that passed the minimum threshold of 3.25% which is equivalent to 4 Knesset seats. The President will ask each leader, “Which candidate do you think I should recommend to ask to form the next government?
Likud with its 30 seats will say of course, Binyamin Netanyahu. Yesh Atid who hold 18 seats will recommend Yair Lapid. Shas and United Torah Judaism with their 16 seats will say Bibi and the Religious Zionists (6) will also vote Bibi.
Benny Gantz of Blue and White with an unexpected 8 seats is likely to endorse Yair Lapid, despite the bad blood that remains between the two politicians after Gantz broke up the party last year to join the Netanyahu government. But then the parties of Labor (7), Yisrael Beitenu (6) Joint List (6) and Meretz (5) will endorse Lapid.
If you are keeping track of the score, that’s 52 to Netanyahu and 50 to Lapid with three parties left. Gideon Sa’ar of New Hope (6) who was completely smashed in the election, is definitely NOT going to recommend Netanyahu. But he may not choose either candidate. The same with Naftali Bennett and his Yamina party, (7) who may wish to “drive a hard bargain” and send a strong message to the Likud camp, “You do not have me in your pocket”.
That leaves the Arab Ra’am party with 5 seats who is simply looking for the best deal for the Arab community, in terms of what benefits can leader Mansour Abbas abstract from any Israeli government formed.
So in theory, the President does not have to choose Netanyahu to form a government, which seems quite preposterous considering his party is ahead by 12 seats. But in the unlikely scenario, Lapid was asked to form a government, it is an almost impossible task to achieve.
Meretz wlll not sit with Yisrael Beitenu. Labour will not sit with New Hope and Bennett along with Sa’ar have already stated they will NOT allow Lapid to become Prime Minister.
In Naftali Bennett’s words, “Lapid is left wing and the country is voting right wing”.
So it may not be until the third week in May, that Netanyahu will get a chance to build a coalition, which in my view can be done with Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar.
Many like Sa’ar have said in the past 12 years that they would never sit with Netanyahu. Ehud Barak said it and eventually broke away from Labor to join Netanyahu after the 2009 election.
Tzipi Livni said she would never sit with Netanyahu and she did. Shaul Mofaz who took over from Kadima with 28 seats and plummeted the party to 2 seats ended up sitting with Netanyahu.
Amir Peretz, also of Labor, said it twice, but still ended up in a government led by Netanyahu. Many others including Benny Gantz said the same words, but still joined. And Gidon Sa’ar will too. He has no place to go with just 6 seats.
But prepare yourself for long drawn negotiations over the next two months and meanwhile to the annoyance and frustration to so many on the left, Netanyahu is still Prime Minister.
WILL BIBI REMAIN PM?
It remains to be seen whether Binyamin Netanyahu will be able to form a coalition for the seventh time in his 3 decades of political life. But what is clear, is that Netanyahu is the third longest continuous serving leader in the western world today and he claims he has the energy to continue for many more years to come.
The exit polls came and went on Tuesday night and continued to change, as the night moved on. But the Likud remained the largest party throughout, by a long way.
This election was more like a referendum on whether Israelis wanted Bibi to remain Prime Minister or “go home”. The result could have gone very differently if the smaller left wing parties lost their voters and chose Yesh Atid. But they didn’t. They followed the pollsters and decided to back Labor and Meretz to make sure, those parties would make it over the line.
Voters in an unpresented way, also backed Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, bringing him to a whopping 8 seats. Blue and White are now the fourth largest party in the Knesset. To think that army generals, security personnel, left wing activists and Yair Lapid himself said, there was no way that Benny Gantz would pass the electoral threshold and they demanded he withdrew from the race.
But Gantz held on, just like he said he would and remains a strong player in the Knesset. In fact, until a government is formed, Benny Gantz continues as Defence Minister with the added confidence that he has the support and vote from about 300,000 Israelis.
There were some six and a half million eligible voters registered to cast one ballot last Tuesday, in 13,685 voting stations across the country. The Central Elections Committee announced that 67.2% of eligible voters cast ballots, down from previous years. This figure is the lowest since 2009, when 64.7% voted.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, some 13% of eligible voters are aged between 18 to 24 years old. 29% are aged between 25 to 39 years old. 32% are aged between 40 to 59 years old. Israelis over the age of 60 years, comprise of 26%.
78% of eligible voters who live in Israel are Jewish of which 11% are chareidi orthodox. Around 17% of eligible voters are Arab, including Muslims, Christians and Druze. And 5% are Christians who do not define themselves as Arab or they have no religious affiliations.
Read my opinion further on in this edition, on why we have pollsters and how they are not just extremely helpful, but how they influence the voter.
DATE FOR THE DIARY
Deadline for final results presented to the President: March 30
Deadline for the President to choose a candidate to form government: April 06
Deadline for the first candidate to build coalition: May 18
Deadline for second candidate to form a coalition: June 15
Failing the above, deadline for any MK to form government: July 6
Date of next election if no government is formed: October 5
ELECTION NEWS BRIEFS:
- Netanyahu declared his Likud party had won in a speech he delivered at the Jerusalem International Convention Centre at 2.30am on Wednesday morning. He vowed to avoid a fifth election and called upon leaders and politicians from across the political spectrum to enter the government that he intended to build immediately.
- Mansour Abbas who heads the Arab Ra’am party and won 5 Knesset seats indicated he would not sit in a government with the Religious Zionists, with whom far right wing candidate and soon to be MK, Itamar Ben Gvir belongs.
- The Central Elections Committee has denied a comment by its chairwoman Orly Adas that appeared to suggest the vote count had been held up by an official in charge on Wednesday, while he went take a rest.
- Binyamin Netanyahu has already spoken with the leaders of Yamina, Religious Zionists, United Torah Judaism and Shas. Furthermore, he called upon Gideon Sa’ar to join him in a government and prevent the country from going to a fifth election in October.
- Absentee ballots are usually cast by members of security forces, prisoners, diplomats and persons with mobility issues who cannot reach their assigned polling station.
- Labor’s rise to 7 seats is a step along the way to Labor returning to becoming a ruling party, said leader Merav Michaeli at a faction meeting on Wednesday.
- The Palestinian Authority said on Wednesday that the Israeli election results “will not change Israel’s policies toward the Palestinian issue”, adding that they did not see a difference between PM Netanyahu or his political rivals.