There is quite a bit of excitement in Israel as the March 17, 2015 election date approaches. Israelis have very passionate views about political issues, which of course, can have existential consequences. Politics are very dynamic. The proportional representation system means that many different parties are represented in the Knesset, with widely disparate views. And as the final decision time approaches, many Israelis have still not made up their minds, leading to widely fluctuating poll results.
In my view, here are some key stories to watch:
1. Zionist Camp or Likud:
Five different polls were released in Israel today. All five of them had the Zionist Camp (Labour party and Tsipi Livni's party, running together) ahead of Prime Minister Netanyahu's Likud party. The average was a 24-21 margin. It is important to remember that these polls still show anywhere from 15 to 25% of Israelis as "undecided." So a lot can still change between now and Tuesday. But there is a growing sense of momentum in favour of the Zionist Camp and it is starting to seem more and more likely that Labour leader Isaac "Boujee" Herzog will have the first opportunity to try and form a government. Boujee will still need to cobble together a total of at least 61 seats and that will be no easy task even if his party wins a plurality of seats.
2. Decline of Meretz:
The left wing Meretz party is in a state of panic. New Israeli changes to the electoral system put the cut off at 3.5% of votes in order to set in the Knesset. This means that Meretz will need to win at least 4 seats to stay on as a party. It appears that many Meretz voters have shifted over to the Zionist Camp. This has caused Meretz to run an all out campaign emphasizing its "social justice" credentials. It looks like it is going to be very close as to whether there will be a Meretz representation in the next Knesset. On balance, I think they will squeak in. But it could be a really close call.
3. Kulanu and Yesh Atid:
Moshe Kahlon's new party ("Kulanu") seems to be polling at about 9 seats consistently. Lapid's party is at approximately 12. That is 21 centrist seats for the new Knesset. My sense is that Lapid has some momentum and could wind up closer to 15 or 16. I think some of these seats will come at Kahlon's expense. Kahlon is probably slightly more likely to join a Likud-led coaltion. Lapid has been very vigorous in his calls for Netanyahu's defeat. But it is likely that either of these parties would join a Likud-led coalition with the right offers. At the same time, Lapid would gladly join a Zionist Camp led coalition and it is probable that Kahlon would do the same thing.
The real issue is how either side will form a government. Looking at the current numbers, it is hard to see how the Zionist Camp could actually put together a viable government. One option would be a "national unity government" where the party cuts a deal with Likud as well as some other centrist parties. If it cannot get together with Likud, the Zionist Camp will have a very difficult time getting past the magic number of 61 - even with Lapid, Kahlon, and some others.
On the other hand, Likud would also have a difficult time with the current numbers. Even with Bennett's party and the religious parties, it is hard to see how they would get to 61 without the Zionist Camp. If they were to get to 61, it would be a narrow, right wing coalition including all four of the religious parties (Bennett, Shas, Degel Hatorah and Yishai's party).
If there are some new developments, I will try to put together one more pre-election blog note. But this might be it until after the results are released on Tuesday evening.