By Yotam Rozenwald
The Israeli 2015 election scheduled for March 17 appears to be a close race, with the Likud and the Zionist Camp locked around 23-26 seats each. Under these circumstances, the center parties play a key role in determining the identity of the Election Day winner.
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In Israel, citizens don’t vote for a president, they vote for a party. According to the “Basic Law: The Government” (Article 7), once the elections result are published the President of Israel consults with the parties who make up the new Knesset, of their preferred choice of prime minister. Each party supports the candidate they deem more suitable for the job, and more likely to successfully assemble a government.
After consulting the different parties, the Israeli President decides which politician has more support, and therefore has better chances of assembling a government and a coalition. An aspiring prime minister needs at least 61 seats in order to assemble a coalition and a government.
According to recent polls published daily in the Israeli media, parties need to decide whether they’ll support Benjamin Netanyahu from the Likud Party, or Isaac Herzog and Zipi Livni, from the Zionist Camp, the center-left political alliance between the Labor Party and Hatnuah.
The factors that lead a party to support a certain politician for the role of prime minister are diverse. Ideological affiliation to a certain political bloc is probably the main factor. Practical considerations are another potential factor, holding the ability to cast aside old grievances and ideological differences.
As for now, two parties have yet to unveil the candidate they will support for the role of Prime Minister: Yesh Atid led by Yair Lapid, and Kulanu led by Moshe Kahlon.
Yesh Atid was the big surprise of the 2013 elections. The party won 19 seats in the Knesset and took prominent roles in government, such as Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Welfare and Social Services.
Yesh Atid is a center party whose platform is mainly social-economic. The party doesn’t hold a rigid ideological stance towards political issues such as peace negotiations and withdrawals from territories.
Yesh Atid’s poker face is understandable, as the party does not want to lose voters to the Zionist Camp. In addition, the party wants to keep its bargaining power for ministerial roles, regardless the identity of the future Prime Minister.
The Kulanu Party is a new center party also campaigning on a social-economic platform. It seems that the same considerations that prevented Yesh Atid from declaring support for any candidate for the role of Prime Minister, applies to Kulanu as well. In addition, Kulanu is a party campaigning for the first time. A term in opposition can weaken the party’s momentum, a thing party leader Kahlon surely knows.
Although Election Day is on March 17, Netanyahu and the right-wing bloc seem to have an edge over Herzog and his Left-Wing bloc.
So far, Herzog has failed to win the support of parties outside the Left-Wing bloc. Orthodox Jewish parties such as Shas or the United Torah Judaism have declared support for Netanyahu. Therefore, Herzog needs to accumulate support from Yesh Atid and Kulanu.
Together, Yesh Atid and Kulanu are worth approximately 20 seats. Herzog’s only chance of winning depends on his ability to add Yesh Atid and Kulanu to his bloc. If he fails not only will he lose the elections, but there is a real chance he will lose voters before Election Day, as voters may leave what they perceive to be a sinking ship.