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Middle east

It's bargaining time for Kadima, Likud

Video by Jessica LE MASURIER

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2009-02-13

With the centrist Kadima party of Tzipi Livni (left) just a seat ahead of Benjamin Netanyahu's right-of-centre Likud party in the Israeli parliament, the composition of the new government will hinge on alliances with smaller parties.

The results of Israel's parliamentary elections have produced few answers to the country’s political differences, with Kadima leader Tzipi Livni and rightwing former premier Benjamin Netanyahu both claiming victory after polls closed on Tuesday.

With 99% of the vote counted, media estimates showed that Kadima had scored 28 seats at the Knesset, against Likud’s 27.

At least two certainties have arisen from the vote, namely that neither Kadima nor Likud can rule Israel alone, and that the political right boasts a growing influence in the country.

The once-dominant Labour party had to accept its worst-ever score (13 seats), while the once-marginal, far-right party Yisrael Beiteinu, led by the tough-talking Avigdor Lieberman, won a stunning 15 seats at the Knesset.

Under Israel’s political system, it is not necessarily the party that scored the most votes which gets to form a government but the party that has the best chance of forming a coalition. Israeli President Shimon Peres now has eight days to choose the premier.

Avigdor Lieberman’s surge has made him the kingmaker in an inevitable horse-trading situation. According to Irris Makler, GRC Jerusalem correspondent for FRANCE 24, neither Kadima nor Likud parties want to join forces, which puts Lieberman at centre stage. “Both parties need him to form a government and both are actually courting him as of today,” said Makler.

One of four scenarios may take shape in the next week, none of which promises to offer any long-term solutions to Israel’s political dilemma.

Unity government

Even if both Livni and Likud leader Netanyahu have said they do not want to join forces, the possibility of a national unity government exists. It would group all the traditional parties - Likud, Kadima and Labour, each conceding some power to name one prime minister until the next election cycle.

“Everything is possible,” explained FRANCE 24’s Marc de Chalvron in Jerusalem, “and in fact, the scenario of a unity government is the first preference for many Israelis.”

Likud member and former Israeli ambassador to the US, Zalman Shoval, is among those who prefer a unity government with Kadima. “This solution is better for Israelis and better for Netanyahu. It would be more convenient for Israel to have a government that represented different views,” he told FRANCE 24.

Rightwing coalition

It is widely accepted that Netanyahu’s Likud party has the best chance of reaching an agreement with other right and far-right parties, including with Yisrael Beiteinu and Shass, as well as other smaller nationalist and ultra-orthodox parties.

According to Claude Klein, a law professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Netanyahu will likely be called upon to form a government, but it is doubtful a rightwing coalition can exercise any lasting power in Israel.

“A rightwing government will be established on at least seven parties, some of them larger parties, some of them very fragmentary parties. It seems completely unlikely that such a government will be capable of reigning for a long period,” said Klein.

Livni reaches out

Tzipi Livni has the benefit of political momentum, winning the highest electoral score for Kadima, and her chance of being named Israel’s next prime minister cannot be discarded.

Livni could turn to the deflated Labour and the smaller left-of-centre parties to construct her coalition, or may decide to make strong concessions to Lieberman for the premiership. The latter scenario would not surprise some political commentators. “Livni is not a woman from the Left. Kadima is a different kind of right party, and the Israeli left has been crushed for the first time,” Haaretz journalist Avirama Golenn told FRANCE 24.

Alternating premiership

There is a fourth scenario, with historical precedent, where no agreement is reached and the premiership is alternated between Livni and Netanyahu, during two, successive two-year terms.

The current circumstances could lead to a repeat of Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres’s “power-sharing” agreement, where each leader occupied the office of the prime minister for two years starting in 1984.

Electoral system reform?

“What came out of this election is a terrible state of confusion,” said Claude Klein, referring to the fact that Kadima and Likud came so close in the vote.

Israel’s national proportional voting system, where there are no constituencies, has consistently given confounding election results, with nearly a dozen parties represented, each with some stake in the government’s decision-making power.

According to the law professor, this election has changed the view of many citizens and politicians on the voting system. “The most likely thing that should happen, in a year or so, is that finally the parties will all come together and change the actual system.”

Klein’s comments are an echo of Ehud Barak’s own words after the elections. “We will work to change the electoral system, we can not continue,” he said. “A coalition is unthinkable; too many political parties make it impossible to put one in place.”




Date created : 2009-02-11