Tuesday 10 February 2009

Winners or Losers?

The polling stations in the 2009 general election are closed and the exit polls are in. Indications are that Tzippi Livni's Kadima Party has won the most seats in the election followed by Netanyahu's Likud Party. The polls show that Kadima has won 2, or maybe 3 seats more than Likud.

But who is the winner, and who is the loser? Even though the President has historically always asked the leader of the party with the most seats to form a government, there is a feeling that things may be different this time. When adding up the number of seats won by each party according to the exit polls, it seems that Netanyahu is more likely to muster the 61 seats required to form a government by combining the right-wing parties into a coalition. Livni has the added burden of having failed to form a coalition in her previous attempt when she succeeded Olmert as the leader of Kadima. This failure is what led to this general election.

The formation of a right-wing government probably reflects the general mood of Israel in the wake of the recent war in Gaza and other recent events. The Israeli centre is further to the right now than it was this time last year, or at any time over the past 10 years. Truths have been exposed about the Palestinian "negotiating partners" which has made a peace arrangement look further away than ever. With the fantasy of a possible peace having been removed as a viable option in the near future, the backing has dried up for the left-wing parties which traditionally gained their support from the peace camp.

Livni, despite having grown up in the Likud, is ironically presented in the 2009 elections as left of centre. The pundits are predicting that she would be forced to team up with the left-wing parties, in opposition to Netanyahu's supporters, to form a government.

The unknown quantity and king-maker in the formation of a coalition government is Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party. He has declined to commit himself to either one side or the other. As a former Director-General of the Netanyahu Prime Minister's office, many position him as a natural Bibi ally. In truth, Lieberman's policies are further to the right than the Likud, and a grouping with Likud certainly seems logical. Lieberman seems, however, to have left the door open to a possible alignment with Livni if this is to his advantage.

As strange as this combination seems, the Israeli people may well benefit most from it. It is my view that Livni is the best individual to fill the Prime Minister's seat. The left-wing baggage that she may be forced to carry with her in forming a government does not represent the will of the people in this election. So, a grouping with Lieberman may give her the right-wing credentials that she needs to form a coalition that more accurately reflects the current mood of the nation.

Whatever coalition is formed is likely to be one without a large majority, and one which is difficult to manage. This provides Israel with a weak government when it needs a strong one. Management of the coalition will undoubtedly occupy valuable time of the Prime Minister and other key ministers when they need to be managing the affairs of state.

All of this leads me to conclude that, whilst the winners of the election remain unclear, the losers seem to be the Israeli people. I hope that I am proved wrong.

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