The election GPS app has spoken but unfortunately, at this stage, the current driver is ignoring its instructions.
Polling is over, counting of special votes is underway and all indications are that we have another deadlock.
Contrary to prior predictions by all the “experts,” turnout was slightly higher overall than at the previous election in April. This is somewhat surprising given the prevailing wisdom held that a massive wave of apathy would keep people away from the polling booths in droves. Although statistics are not yet released it seems that right-wing voters may have stayed away in greater numbers than supporters of centrist and other parties. There is also however perhaps another reason and that relates to the current incumbent who many feel has exceeded his “use by” date. Having surpassed David Ben Gurion’s record as the longest-serving Prime Minister there comes a time when voters start to look for a fresh face and new ideas. Moreover with several indictments hanging over his head as well as those of some of his coalition partners, in the eyes of many former supporters, the time may have come to hand over to a younger person untainted by scandals and perhaps living a more modest lifestyle.
Ben Gurion also, with all his historical achievements and charisma did not know when to bow out gracefully or groom a successor. Unfortunately, he had to be dumped by a party revolt and like today’s PM rather than go quietly with the grateful thanks of the nation he instead formed another party. This did not help him because the electorate had already decided that it was time for a change.
Netanyahu’s gamble in calling another election right after the last one has failed to secure him the majority he was hoping for. In most normal democracies this would mean the resignation of the PM and the orderly promotion of a successor. It does not detract from ten years and more of devoted service to the State and does not obviate the chance to continue to contribute in some other capacity in the years ahead. What it does do is to ensure the orderly transition to a new leader and the quick formation of a new coalition. Instead what we face at the moment is the person at the wheel ignoring signs and instead insisting on steering the country into dead ends and one way no exit hazards.
Given the current predicted results, it is obvious that the only way out of the dead heat impasse is to form a national unity Government of both major parties. This is the demand of Yisrael Beiteinu leader, Avigdor Liberman, who as many predicted has turned out to be the “kingmaker.” His party’s rise from five to eight seats is indicative of a revolt against the coercive stranglehold that the non-Zionist ultra-religious parties have had in recent coalitions and their impact on the personal lives of citizens. It is not a reaction against Jewish religious practices as such but rather a growing disgust with what is seen as increasingly untenable attitudes towards army service, conversions, marriage and kashrut certification, amongst other matters. What increasing numbers of citizens are looking for are answers to all these challenges facing a modern Jewish State. Unfortunately, those still mired in the shtetl thinking of Eastern Europe, no matter how learned, cannot provide the leadership that is needed.
The other demand which resonates is the option for Netanyahu to retire and Likud to elect a new leader who can then join with Blue & White and Liberman’s party to establish a stable national unity coalition. This is the stumbling block at the moment. Whether the “anyone but Bibi” strategy works and Likud MK’s can be enticed to join a unity coalition without him remains to be seen.
What other post mortem conclusions can one draw from the election results?
Shas the ultra-religious Sephardic party increased its representation no doubt as a result of its top Rabbis promising eternal rewards in the next life if voting for them. The other ultra-religious party, UTJ representing Ashkenazi supporters, whose leader has the dubious distinction of helping to prevent Malka Leifer’s extradition to Australia, maintained its seats. This is interesting because with the large increase in young Haredim eligible to vote one could assume that their mandates would increase. It, therefore, seems possible that a trend of these younger voters to choose other parties may be a factor.
The combined Arab list, an amalgam of four disparate parties, gained a respectable thirteen seats and may even end up being the leaders of the opposition in the Knesset. Their distinctive anti-Zionist ethos and tendency to defer to pronouncements from Ramallah make them impossible coalition partners to all except the extreme left.
One of the biggest losers in these elections was Yamina, an uneasy alliance of hastily thrown together right-wing national religious parties. Consisting of hard-line religious and nationalistic individuals as well as more moderate and liberal candidates they had already announced that as soon as the polls closed they would split again into their respective parts. It was, therefore, no surprise that all they could achieve was seven seats as droves of their supporters either abstained or voted for alternative parties.
What was once the mighty Labour Party has been reduced to a rump of six seats. It is clear that the vast majority of the electorate has no enthusiasm for the party’s manifesto of socialist economics, nostalgia for the disastrous Oslo fiasco and continued hallucinations that peace partners are waiting to be embraced in Ramallah.
Meanwhile, ultra far-left Meretz, joined this time by two “refugees”, namely a failed aspirant for the Labour leadership and a rejected former PM whom no other party wanted to have, failed to garner more than five seats.
Where do we go from here?
Horse trading on a grand scale is already underway with outrageous demands at the top of the list. If any conclusion can be drawn from this second election it is that a groundswell exists for some sort of change. Whether those at the top heed the message remains to be seen. If they do not, retribution next time around will be swift and more decisive.
Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel and is J-Wire’s correspondent in the region.