It began in 1977 with the Democratic Movement for Change, continued through a bewildering array of factions from Tzomet to Shinui and most bizarrely, Gil, the pensioners’ list of two campaigns ago, which was the outright craze among adolescent first-time voters.
Coming in as the second-largest Knesset component, this year’s fad – ex-broadcaster Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid – positively dazzled and handily outdid all its predecessor overnight wonders. Analysts believe it bit into the support of both the rightist and leftist stalwarts. It remains to be seen how this unknown entity will behave in the actual arena.
Yesh Atid’s sensation wasn’t the sole shocker. More than than a quarter of a million Israelis voted on Tuesday for lists that didn’t manage to surmount the Knesset’s relatively low entry threshold of 2 percent.
That means that no fewer than nine Knesset seats went down the drain. The core preferences of these 270,000 voters would have received due expression, had they only opted for lists more clearly aligned with the bloc of their leaning, rather than for quasi-nonsensical or ephemeral ones.
But that didn’t happen. It’s time to own up that no change in the electoral system could fix the lackadaisical recklessness with which too many Israelis treat their ballots. Voting for the voguish unfamiliar or the lost cause as a lark is the root anomaly that complicates our coalition construction task, strengthens the bargaining/ extortion powers of marginal parties and leaves the mass of mainstream citizens with precisely what they didn’t want and voted against.
It’s a familiar pattern that this year looms worse than ever.
The Left cannot form a government despite the apparent near-parity between the blocs. The embarrassingly snookered Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can on paper concoct a coalition, but his challenge is unenviable in the extreme.
His apparently most viable alternative is to shield himself with Lapid on one side and the significantly more empowered (at his expense) Bayit Yehudi at the other. This would suffice for a majority and might suit him just fine.
In such a combination, where the Likud straddles the middle, Netanyahu can avoid kowtowing to the fringes, and conveniently proffer pretexts for assorted compromises. The trouble is that Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi would a priori pull in contradictory directions.
Their cross-purposes might leave Netanyahu in an untenable position.
Even if he succeeds in squaring the circle, Netanyahu could face the unsavory prospect, from his perspective, of breaking up traditional alliances between the Likud and the haredi (ultra-orthodox) parties. In the long run this would not be to the Likud’s advantage, but there appears little chance that Lapid’s demand to end draft exemptions for yeshiva students can coexist alongside the haredi demand that the exemptions be somehow maintained.
These election returns, a nightmare for Netanyahu, leave him damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.
Prima facie, he should not dare to disregard the clear disgust of the middle-of-the-road electorate with the exemptions and the associated economic manifestations of unfair burdens imposed on the long-suffering majority. In practical terms, however, the hopeless hodgepodge with which the results present Netanyahu makes bold moves all the riskier.
Herein lies the great irony of this electoral round.
The election was advanced by nine months because the previous Knesset’s composition made passing a 2013 state budget exceedingly difficult. But the election, geared to create a more rational legislative mix, did the precise opposite. We may all wax nostalgic about the 18th Knesset.
The desirable solution is as broad a coalition as possible, one in which no party can hold the government to ransom. In other words, we would like to see something approaching what is commonly dubbed a national unity government.
But that is easier said than done. For that, all potential partners need to lower expectations and demand less in portfolios, prestige and policies. Given proven past political proclivities, however, that is likely too optimistic. Regrettably, we are in for a rough-and-tumble ride till a new government is formed.