Israel general elections 2015
SHAI COHEN*On March 17 the Israeli population went to the election ballot boxes for the second time in two years. On Dec. 8, 2014, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the 19th Kneset (the Israeli parliament) due to discrepancies in the coalition under his governance, and called for new general elections. The results as of March 19 are final and represent more than 99% of the votes. The Likud Party headed by Mr. Netanyahu won the elections with approximately 23 percent of the votes and 29-30 seats in the Kneset (out of 120 total seats). The rival party, “The Zionist camp,” (Labour) headed by Ytzhak Herzog and Tzipi Livni, reached approximately 18 percent and 24 seats. The third major party is “The Unified List” of the Israeli Arab sector, led by emerging political figure Aiman Ode, which reached approximately 11 percent (13 seats).
The Israeli democracy is very deeply anchored in the traditional values and best practices which have prevailed since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. This was demonstrated again in this 20th electoral process with a voting rate of approximately 70 percent out of 5.9 million Israeli citizens who are entitled to vote. Such a voting rate is particularly notable in comparison to the 2013 elections (66 percent) and the 2009 elections (64 percent), and exceeded the expectations of experts during the last three months. Moreover, 26 different parties participated in the elections and 10 parties succeeded in crossing the 3.25% election threshold on their way to representation in parliament. This surely is a reflection of the multicultural Israeli society as well as the pluralistic political system, which enables any person to express his or her views, values and beliefs with absolute freedom and according to national regulation and legislation.
Yet, it should be noted there are voices in Israel calling for a modification in the electoral method with the aim of reducing the number of parties in the Kneset and strengthening the major parties and their ability to govern. This issue will probably be significant in the parliament’s agenda for the next term.
Another prominent issue, which played a central part in this last electoral process, is the so-called cost of living, which has been ranked above security concerns by the public for the first time. In this context, a prominent challenge for Netanyahu’s new government will be the growing cost of housing in Israel, which was expressed by the prime minister in his victory speech immediately after the election results were declared. Although the centrality of the aforementioned economic and political issues are of importance for the wellbeing of a growing Israeli population, security concerns - such as Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant - will continue to encompass major resources and efforts dedicated by the new government. In addition, several regional challenges are expected to be addressed by the new government, including cooperation with close neighbors such as Egypt and Jordan, development and cooperation in the energy sector, bilateral relations with the Turkish Republic and sustainable economic development.
With these heavy tasks lying in front of the Israeli leadership, Mr. Netanyahu will approach President Reuven Rivlin in the next few weeks in order to officially obtain the assignment of forming a new government. The main challenge will be composing a coalition of parties, headed by the Likud, with the goal of having the necessary majority of seats in the parliament. Thus, the coming days or weeks shall be dedicated to intensive internal political negotiations, conducted by the Likud, in order to assume a stable government as soon as possible and to ensure functional continuity, which is necessary for Israel’s economy, welfare and security in the coming years.
*Shai Cohen is the Consul General of Israel in Istanbul