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Middle East

Livni and Netanyahu claim victory in cliffhanger vote

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-02-11

Israel's centrist Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's Kadima party won a narrow victory over Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud. Kadima won 28 seats and Likud 27 in the 120-member Knesset, or parliament.

Kadima leader Tzipi Livni and rightwing former premier Benjamin Netanyahu both claimed victory in Tuesday’s Israeli elections, after a vote that saw a major swing to the right.


With 99% of the vote counted, media estimates showed that Kadima had scored 28 seats at the Knesset, against Likud (27 seats), and once-dominating Labour (13 seats). Voter turnout was up, reaching 65.5%, 1.7% more than in 2006, despite fears of voter apathy.


Speaking to supporters in Tel Aviv, Tzipi Livni, who took on the leadership of Kadima after PM Ehud Olmert stepped down to face graft charges, was upbeat. “Today the people have chosen Kadima,” she said before inviting Netanyahu to join a unity government and vowing to become Israel’s second female premier.


Israelis are preparing for weeks of horse-trading as parties seek to form a ruling coalition, though it is widely seen that Likud will have a greater chance of reaching an agreement with other rightwing parties including the far-right party Yisrael Beiteinu, led by the tough-talking Avigdor Lieberman, which scored a stunning 12% of the vote (15 seats).





Netanyahu hailed what he called a “nationalist camp” in parliament and said he would lead a coalition with other rightwing parties. “With God’s help, I will lead the next government,” he said.


Israeli President Shimon Peres now has eight days during which to choose the premier. 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.




According to Israeli politics specialist Michel Garfunkiel, he is likely to choose Netanyahu to form a coalition. “One of two small rightwing parties may join the Likud, giving it extra seats in the Knesset and an edge over Kadima,” he explained.


Likud member and former Israeli ambassador to the US, Zalman Shoval says he clearly prefers a unity government with Kadima. “It’s not clear yet whether we going towards a centre-right government or large national unity coalition. However, 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 said during a FRANCE 24 interview.


Labour takes beating; far-right emerges as kingmaker


The once-dominant centre-left Labour party led by Defense minister Ehud Barak, suffered a crushing defeat and lost 6 seats in Parliament, scoring only 13 seats.


This defeat hurts I admit,” said Labour lawmaker Colette Avital in a FRANCE 24 interview, “in the last days of the campaign, parties and the press presented Kadima as the only alternative to Likud, telling voters that if they did not vote for Livni they would reinforce Netanyahu.” Avital also added that she believed Labour should join the opposition and work on regaining voter confidence.


The Labour party lost their third place in the Knesset to the far right party Yisrael Beiteinu which scored 15 seats and emerged as a potential kingmaker.


Ultra-Orthodox part Shas party came fifth with 11 seats in the Knesset, while Arab parties scored 11 seats in the Knesset and are unlikely to join any coalition.

Palestinians gloomy


Palestinians reacted gloomily to Israeli election results on Wednesday, as Israel moved to the right at the right's strong showing."It's obvious the Israelis have voted to paralyse the peace process," Palestinian senior negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.


However, President Mahmoud Abbas told Italy's La Repubblica newspaper that "the ascent of the Israeli right does not worry us." "In whatever form, the government, once in power, will ultimately end up with responsibility, pragmatism prevailing," he said.


A spokesman for Hamas, the target of Israel's three-week war on Gaza that killed over 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, told AFP that voters had picked "the most bellicose candidates, those who are the most extremist in their rhetoric."

Ehud Olmert of Kadima, who stepped down to face graft charges, will remain in post as caretaker PM until a new government is in place, and has said he would continue negotiations with Palestinians and consolidate the truce that ended the war in Gaza.

Date created : 2009-02-11