Today, Israelis are heading to the polls to decide who they want to form their next government, following weeks of tightly fought campaigning. We will get our first look at how Israel voted at 8pm UK time tonight when the official exit poll is released. Follow CFI’s Twitter and the Times of Israel website for updates throughout the day.
Despite trailing narrowly behind the centrist Blue and White party, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has the advantage of a clear path to another governing coalition, as the right wing-bloc of parties ultimately leads in the polls.
A final poll of polls published on 5th April shows that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s principal challenger, centrist Blue and White leader and former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, is slightly ahead with 30 projected Knesset seats to Netanyahu’s 29.
The last few days have been dominated by incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vigorous appeal to win votes from the smaller right-wing parties and close the lead that the Blue and White party hold. On Sunday, Netanyahu promised to apply Israeli sovereignty to all settlements in the West Bank if he wins the elections. Fear of a low turnout on Sunday forced the Likud to cancel a rally in Jerusalem. In a last minute bid to win over right-wing voters, Prime Minister Netanyahu wrote in Yediot Ahronoth newspaper that the “only way to ensure a right-wing government and to prevent a left-wing government from being formed is by voting for the Likud. A ballot for the Likud is a ballot for the right-wing parties, all of which will be part of the Likud government that we form, if we receive your votes”.
As a result, there is a possibility that one or more of the smaller factions may not pass the 3.25% threshold of votes needed in order to enter the Knesset. This may end up backfiring on Netanyahu, who depends on these right-wing parties to form his coalition of 61+ Knesset seats.
Some commentators have speculated that yesterday’s decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to designate the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist organisation will benefit Netanyahu in the polls.
Despite the right-wing bloc’s narrow numerical advantage, nothing has yet been decided. If the Blue and White party lead Likud by at least four seats, they will be in a strong position appeal to Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin to give them the nomination to form a government. The next few days will certainly be worth watching.
Who are Israelis voting for?
There are 39 political parties in the race, but the front-runners include:
Likud (“The United”) – Headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud stands for national and economic liberalism and has been the traditional home of the mainstream right-wing since the 1970s when it was founded by Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon.
Blue and White – Key election contenders former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid announced in February 2019 that they were joining forces under a new centrist ticket named Blue and White. The centrist alliance has emerged as the principle challenger to Mr Netanyahu’s Likud. If they form the next government, they have agreed that Mr Gantz would be Prime Minister for two and a half years, with Mr Lapid becoming Prime Minister after that.
Ha’Avoda (Israeli Labor Party) – The main party on the left. It is currently run by Avi Gabbay. The party traditionally supports pragmatic foreign affairs policies, and social democratic economic policies, and is widely expected to lose a number of seats – possibly even half its current MKs.
The New Right – A newly created right-wing party that branched off from Jewish Home. This new party is headed by Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett and is aimed at both religious and secular Jews.
Yisrael Beiteinu (“Israel is our Home”) – Led by former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the right-wing nationalist party traditionally held a base for secular, Russian-speaking Israelis.
Kulanu (“All of Us”) – Led by Moshe Kahlon, the centrist party focuses on economic and cost-of-living issues.
Ta’al-Hadash – Ta’al-Hadash is a joint electoral list of two parties: Ta’al (Arab Renewal) and Hadash (Jewish/Arab Communist). The two were part of the four-strong Arab alliance, ‘The Joint List’ which competed in the 2015 elections but disbanded before the 2019 elections. Just before the deadline for submitting the lists, Hadash (headed by Ayman Odeh) and Ta’al (headed by Ahmad Tibi) agreed to run together.
Ra’am-Balad – Ra’am-Balad is a joint electoral list of two Arab parties: Ra’am (Islamist) and Balad (Arab-Palestinian nationalist), led by Mansour Abbas. The two were part of The Joint List in the 2015 Knesset. Just before the deadline for submitting the lists, Ra’am and Balad agreed to run together, mainly in order to minimise the risk of failing to pass the electoral threshold.
Meretz (“Vigour”) – A left-wing party led by Tamar Zandberg, emphasising social justice, human rights, religious freedom, and environmentalism.
United Right List – A union of pro-settler and far-right parties Jewish Home, Tkuma, and Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power). The widely criticised union was created after Mr Netanyahu guaranteed it two cabinet positions if he becomes Prime Minister again. Established in 2012, Otzma Yehudit is led by former National Union MK Michael Ben Ari and far right activists Itamar Ben Gvir, Baruch Marzel and Benti Gopstein. They are followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was a Knesset member from 1984-88 before his Kach Party was declared an illegal terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and other Western countries.
Shas – An ultra-Orthodox party which primarily represents the interests of ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Jews and is currently led by Aryeh Deri.
United Torah Judaism – An alliance of Degel HaTorah and Agudat Israel, two small Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox parties. The two parties have not always agreed with each other about policy matters. However, they have cooperated in order to win the maximum number of seats in the Knesset and have agreed to do so again in this year’s elections.
Gesher (“Bridge”) – A centrist party led by former Yisrael Beitenu MK Orly Levy-Abekasis, focusing on social welfare issues.
Zehut (“Identity”) – Led by Moshe Feiglin, Zehut is right-wing on security and diplomatic issues, but socially libertarian. It supports the separation of religion and state and the legalisation of cannabis.
The voting system:
Israelis will be voting for a party – and not a Prime Minister – in an electoral system based on nation-wide proportional representation. This means that the number of seats which every list receives in the Knesset is proportional to the number of voters who voted for it.
According to this system, the voters vote for a party list, and not for a particular person on the list. The electoral threshold is currently set at 3.25%, meaning that a party needs to win at least 3.25% of all votes (which translates to four Knesset seats) in order to secure parliamentary representation. This threshold is the reason that some smaller parties may join up with other factions, in a bid to give themselves a better chance of passing the electoral threshold.
After the votes are counted work begins to assemble a coalition (which needs at least 61 of the 120 Members of Knesset in order to function). The leader of the coalition will then be recommended as Prime Minister.
The voting day is a national holiday in Israel with most places of work closed for the day. Voter turnout is one of the highest in the world, with 71% of the voting population turning up to vote during the last elections in 2015.