Israeli Election Politics Could Defy Logic
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Israeli elections truly demonstrate the serious problems inherent in a multi-party electoral system. Extremely democratic though the system may be in giving voice to the entire array of major political viewpoints in the country, at the same time it sets up a system that invariably makes governing much more difficult. The need to build a governing coalition often requires the leaders of the coalition to be beholden to narrow interests which may frequently even be antithetical to the platform of the lead party. While this certainly reflects the very essence of democracy and requires true political compromise, it creates enormous frustration for those seeking to lead and govern.
Almost all of Israel’s elections are close but this one on March 17 seems likely to be an extremely tight contest between Netanyahu’s Likud Party and the Labor/Hatnuah–Isaac Herzog/Tzipi Livni—now called Zionist Camp. Polls keep swinging with either party leading by small margin; so tight that most analysts suggest that none of the polls will mean anything or be able to predict a likely winner.
If Netanyahu wins he would likely form a right/center Government together with Naphtali Bennett’ s HaBayit HaYehudi Party and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisraeli Beitanu. It is predicted as well that such a new coalition would include the religious haredi party which was kept out of the current ruling coalition as well as the Sephardic religious party Shas.
On the other hand, if the Herzog/Livni party were to garner the largest number of seats in the next Knesset, it would create a center/left coalition which would certainly include Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party. As would be the case for Netanyahu, Herzog and Livni will need to woo other small parties to cobble together the 60 seats needed to govern.
Some observers have suggested that the results of this election could present a rare and ironic problem in democratic politics. If Herzog/Livni team obtains more seats than Netanyahu, it has been suggested that they might be hard pressed to form a coalition without including the Arab Parties (which are projected to gain as many as 12 seats or 10% of the vote.) Alternatively, they may need to bring the haredi parties into their coalition, which would press for huge concessions from the Herzog/Livni platform.
As a result, unless both Herzog/Livni plus Yesh Atid win a very sizeable number of the votes themselves, they might prove unable to put together a viable coalition. This would permit Netanyahu—despite the fact that Likud might not have obtained the most seats—to form a new Government. It may be very democratic but it desperately needs reform.