January 22, 2013
OPEN POST, Election Day: Play the coalition game
As the results of election day gradually unfold, we will bring you realtime updates and analysis in this election day open post.
In case you want to play a small coalition game before you go to sleep, here's a little tool you can use. Obviously, this one is based on exit polls and the final results might change calculations and numbers. But what you have here is the basic four options for the next coalition:
Of course, there are more possible combinations – for example, one that would include only one of the two Haredi parties. Or one that would include Livni but not Kadima (in case Kadima doesn’t manage to secure its 2 mandates). Take a look at the table and the graph and do it yourself!
Having heard the speeches of some of the heads of parties I can now say that:
Moshe Yaalon says: It’s “natural” that I’ll be appointed as the next Defense Minister. His chances might have gone up as Netanyahu can’t waste time now on unnecessary battles.
Damaged reputations? I’d have to say that political consultant Arthur Finkelstein is at the top of the list. Likud senior members blame him for the failure to gain more votes and the numbers do look grim, even though one might still argue that Netanyahu has reached his goal- he will remain Prime Minister.
The final election turnout is 66.6% - not much above the 2009 outcome. Our updated graph isn’t yet final, but if we go by the exit polls it’s going to look something like this:
Note this: theoretically speaking, the next coalition could consist of just three parties: Likud, Habait Hayehudi, Yesh Atid. These three will have more than 60 mandates between them. This means that the Haredi parties no longer have the power to make demands that Netanyahu will have to accept. This means that he can make the Haredi issue a defining agenda for his next term. It will make him popular with many Israelis, but will make the Haredis fume – and they will not forget. Hence – see bellow – the long term vs. short term Netanyahu dilemma.
The Labor Party didn’t do as well as it wanted to do. Obviously, its members are trying to spin the outcome as a victory for the “center-left” but there is no such thing as center-left. There’s left – the parties that aren’t going to join Netanyahu – and there’s center- the parties willing to join. That the people of the Labor party aren’t happy is quite clear when one hears them being interviewed as the evening progresses. Future MK Merav Michaeli is already showing her disdain for Lapid – if he decides to join the coalition. MK Hertzog blames Livni for taking away mandates from Labor (when Livni was not in the race, the polls gave Labor more than 20 mandates). Labor infighting is to be expected following the questionable achievement of Yachimovich. Her decision not to make the peace process an issue will be reexamined. Her decision to prematurely announce that she will not be joining the Netanyahu coalition under any circumstances will also be an issue of debate. Will she be the leader of the Labor Party by the time the next elections take place? Maybe – maybe not. New and shiny stars are waiting on the sidelines and Labor is a good platform for them.
Here's an amazing number: out of 120 Knesset members, 50 or so are going to be new members. The one victory that can't be disputed is that of the young new faces. This means a number of things:
- The voters don't really appreciate the old guard
- The voters want something else, and are willing to compromise and try the untested.
- The next Knesset will be unruly.
- The next Knesset will not be very productive, at least not for the first year or two- it takes time to acquire the art of politics.
So the Prime Minister has a choice: if he wants to regain his footing and stay in power, and maybe convince more Israelis that he is the right man for the job, and not just the no-alternative/default/until someone better comes along- candidate, he'll have to consider his 'base'. This isn't going to be easy for him- Netanyahu relied on this base for many years and was planning to hold it together for years to come. Thus, the current cycle might present Netanyahu with a short-term vs. long term dilemma: if he holds on to the base, he can't quite form a stable coalition in 2013. If he dumps the base, he might pay a high price for it in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Forget about the ‘blocking bloc’ nonsense. Netanyahu is the only available Prime Minister. He is going to be Prime Minister. The center (Lapid) and the left (Labor) aren’t going to agree on another candidate. They can’t. Lapid will not support Shelly Yachimovich- she got less mandates than he did. And, of course, Lapid- up until a couple of months ago a columnist with no political experience- is not a candidate. He is too smart to believe that he is. So- again- the outcome of these elections is not about replacing Bibi, it’s about replacing his coalition.
Here's the bottom line: the voters still know that Netanyahu is going to be Prime Minister, but they sent him an unequivocal message: change your coalition. He doesn't have the votes for a right- religious coalition- and this might make his life easier. He can tell the right- either you compromise or you might get a coalition that is going to be much worse for your causes. He can tell the Haredis- either you compromise or you might get a coalition that is goingto be much worse for your causes. With Yair Lapid as the big surprise of this election cycle. Netanyahu is actually going to have the coalition he wanted- with him at the center, Lapid to his left and the hard right, well, to his right.
Rumor- and sources- say that the right-religious bloc might not have the 60 plus mandates needed to safely secure the traditional nNetanyahu coalition. This doesn't change my assumption that Netanyahu will still be the next PM. Lack of viable alternative is on good reason to assume that he'll remain at the helm. But coalition bulding will be trickier. Netanyahu is going to have to centralize his coalitio- he wants to do it anyhow, but his bargaining position is going to be weaker.
High turnout might be the most significant story of the 2013 election cycle. Likud activists are already voicing some measure of concern because of the turnout, which they fear will benefit their rivals. The turnout is expected be higher than 70% for the first time since 1999 – a somewhat odd outcome considering the fact that the identity of the next PM is considered by most Israelis a done deal: Netanyahu.
Whether Netanyahu is in real trouble or not is something we don’t know yet, but here’s one attempt to understand the 2013 high turnout. In the graph bellow we present two trend lines:
1. The blue line – the voting percentage since the watershed elections of 1977.
2. The red line – the gap (in %) between the two main contenders. Note that in Israel – in almost every cycle – the election is not between two parties or two contenders for the Prime Minister’s job, but rather between multiple parties. The number presented here is shows the gap between the number one and the number two parties – that’s usually the gap between the two people most probable to become the PM. When there were direct elections for PM (1996, 1999), or elections only for PM (2001), we presented the numbers for the two contenders for the top job and not the numbers for the parties. Take a look at the graph:
What do we see here? Competitive elections do seem to have some impact on turnout – but not as much as one can expect. We also see that looking at the years since 1977 might be a mistake. There was a significant change beginning with the 2001 election, so the question is what happened in 2001 that made a lasting impression on the voters. As you can see, competitiveness was relatively low in 2001 and 2003 but was growing in 2006 and 2009. In 2013 we will have low competitiveness and high voting percentage, making this graph seem even less explanatory than it is now. Clearly, a close election – or, to be accurate, a close battle for the PM job - is not the secret ingredient to having a high turnout. So having Netanyahu as the all-but-certain PM doesn’t have to lower the turnout.
An article in Slate argues that:
Something strange has happened in Israel: While almost two-thirds of Israelis have a negative view of “the left,” 67 percent say they support a two-state solution that would include a divided Jerusalem—the very compromise that has been the defining feature of the left's agenda. Even among Netanyahu’s hawkish electorate, 58 percent say they are in favor of such a solution. It’s a paradox that cannot be easily explained. How is it possible for an ideological camp to collapse so resoundingly just as its platform is becoming more widely accepted than ever?
It is common to make the mistake of arguing that Israelis oppose the “left” but truly support the left’s “agenda”. Wrong: Israelis might say that they support a two state solution. They also support an Israeli settlement on the moon. When the question doesn’t seem relevant, the answer is also irrelevant. Israelis support peace – but think it’s unattainable. They oppose the agenda of parties believing peace to be attainable because they think that these parties will make compromises most Israelis oppose to get peace most Israelis don’t think is “real” peace.
And here’s a paragraph that didn’t make it in full into the copy of the IHT-NYT article (see bellow, at the 6:15pm update):
If Netanyahu doesn’t seem eager to advance negotiations, Israelis don’t care: they don’t think negotiations are more than wasting good time on hopeless process. If the supposed alternative – in this case Livni – bases its campaign on a slogan such as “Netanyahu – International boycott; Livni – Diplomatic Solution”, the voters just laugh. They don’t see a solution. If the opposition – in this case former PM Ehud Olmert - disparages Netanyahu for picking a fight with President Obama, the voters tend to be on Netanyahu’s side: They don’t much like Obama, and many of them would support the government keeping its current policies “even at the cost of a clash with the U.S. administration”. Last week, a well-known columnist compared Obama to Assyrian minister Rabshakeh that was threatening to destroy Jerusalem in the year 701 BCE. “In Jerusalem of King Hezekiah's time, the people did not fall victim to the Assyrians' psychological warfare”, the columnist, Dan Margalit, reminded his readers. If polls are correct, nor will the 2013 Jerusalemites change their vote following President Obama’s recent leaked rebuke of Netanyahu’s.
My latest HIT-NYT post was headlined Bibi Forever. Here’s a paragraph:
The latest polls project that the [Kadima] party will win just 2 or 3 seats. Kadima is nearly finished. And with it, the vitality of competitive democracy in Israel will be finished, too. Israelis will go to the polls Tuesday knowing that nothing short of a miracle will prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from securing his third term in office. He is already thinking about a fourth term.
Why the very high voting percentage? Ironically, that the identity of the next Prime Minister is pretty much known may have something to do with it. True, the fact that everyone assumes that Netanyahu will have another term makes the race for the PM office not very interesting and not at all competitive. But this made the other, smaller races between parties much more heated. And when smaller parties have a larger share of the attention and the vote, more people are involved – because the small parties cater to the specific tastes of different groups and blocs and make it all seem more personal and closer to home.
Additionally, here are links to some of the interviews we have conducted over the past few weeks with Knesset members and political leaders from various parties: