Absentee ballots and historic low voter turnout may leave Israel’s government in a continued state of uncertainty and Benjamin Netanyahu in power, without a clear mandate, continuing as the nation’s longest-serving prime minister.
Perhaps due to coronavirus precautions or simply weariness from yet another election in two years, the last time so few Israelis turned out to vote was in 2009, when Netanyahu, or Bibi as he is called, began his most recent run as prime minister.
Ron’s election analysis
One thing was clear in Tuesday’s election, no matter which of the dozens of parties on the ballot you selected, the vote came down to whether you were “for Bibi” or “against Bibi.”
In Israel, citizens vote for a party, not a person. In order to form a government, one party or a coalition of parties must gain control of 61 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, or parliament. No party has ever won the majority on its own in Israel’s history.
It will be days before all the absentee ballots are counted. At this point, no one has a clear path to victory, thought for a short time yesterday, it appeared that Bibi had the votes for a governing coalition—if he could convince the Yamina party to join him. This was based on exit polls. But since then, the later polls seems to point to a fifth election. But make no mistake, Netanyahu’s Likud did far better than expected.
The margin is razor-thin between Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc and the anti-Netanyahu bloc of strange bed-fellows: two or three right wing parties, two Arab parties, two Jewish left wing party and the large centrist, Yesh Atid.
“I stretch out my hand to all MKs who believe in this path,” Netanyahu said. “I don’t rule anybody out. I expect all who believe in our principles to act in a similar fashion. Join us in this government.”
In an unexpected twist, a new group of MKs (Members of the Knesset) from Ra’am, an Islamist party, may end up being a “kingmaker” in the formation of a new, stable government. Both Netanyahu and his rivals may need to court the Arab party to get over the 61-seat threshold. However, the fundamental platform differences between Netanyahu’s group and the Ra’am party may make reaching an agreement difficult.
As in the last three elections, once the votes are all tabulated, Israelis may still have to wait several weeks to see if a new government will be formed or if they will need to head to the polls yet again.