Thursday, January 09, 2003
More thoughts about the upcoming Israeli elections.
Since December 12, the Ha'aretz poll has shown the center-right bloc (Likud plus Yisrael B'Aliyah) dropping from 44 seats expected to 30 seats. This is a huge drop. However, in the same period, the left-wing bloc (Labor plus Meretz) has increased only from 27 seats to 31 seats. Moreover, if a complete right-wing bloc (Likud, YB'A, National Religious and National Union) is compared with a complete left-wing bloc (Labor, Meretz and the Arab parties), the right wing has dropped from 55 seats to 43 seats, a loss of twelve, while the left wing has risen from 37 to 40, a gain of 3 seats.
So where are those Likud votes going? They almost entirely moving to the Haredi parties and Shinui. The Haredi parties have gained an expected 4 seats since December 12, going from 14 to 18 seats, and Shinui has gained 5 seats, going from 12 to 17.
Barring something dramatic - a massive break to the left - there is no prospect of a left-wing government, even if current trends continue and Labor gets more votes than Likud in the final vote. Why? Because even with the support of the Arab bloc, the left is nowhere near 60 seats. They will need to bring in either Shinui or the Haredi parties to form a coalition. And they can't bring in both. And I strongly suspect that neither will join a pure left-wing government dependent on the votes of the Arab parties for its majority. (And right now, even if either would do so, they STILL wouldn't have a majority).
But if current trends continue, we won't be able to have a right-wing government either. A Likud-Shinui-Far Right coalition would garner 62 mandates based on current polls. That's a bare majority - and it assumes, further, that Likud can entice the Histadrut party, One Nation, into coalition, which is far from certain. Without them, the government would have exactly 60 mandates. If Sharon instead opts for a Likud-Haredi-Far Right coalition - again, you can't have both Shinui and the Haredim in coalition - then he'll have only 61 mandate - again, assuming he snags One Nation. Without One Nation, he has nothing.
If current polling trends continue, then, we are headed towards a National Unity government or no government. And this is what the Israeli electorate wants, consistently, according to all polls. It is also the express preference of the Shinui party, the greatest beneficiary of this election. Therefore, the Israeli electorate is being entirely rational by dividing the balance of power in the Knesset according to the culture war: half for Shinui, and half for Shas-UTJ. This is the only way to guarantee that Labor and Likud must form a government together (and together with either the Haredim or Shinui).
The politics post-election will be interesting. If Labor actually "wins" the election, and reaches out to Likud as a coalition partner (that being the only way to form a government), will Likud really reject the offer? And if Sharon tries to accept, will his party depose him? Meanwhile, if Likud "wins" the election, and reaches out to Labor as a coalition partner (that being the only way to form a government), will Mitzna stick with his promise to refuse? If he tries to, will he be deposed? And finally: will Tommy Lapid consent to join any government, even a National Unity government (he has said he will not join a left-wing government)? Or will he prefer to remain in perpetual opposition (if National Unity happens without him, he'll be the head of the opposition) and perpetual lack of accountability? His personality is now the driving force in Israeli politics. He's the latest phenomenon on roughly the Pym Fortuyn model. We would do well to understand him better.
One thing I can say for certain: if the elections look like current polling, the contest after the election will be: how many concessions can the "loser" extract from the "winner" without causing the coalition to fail, leading to another round of elections and the collapse of the party blamed for the failure of negotiations.