Israeli Election Results Point Rightward

It was a night for celebrating at the headquarters of Israel's Kadima party, after exit polls showed that their team, led by Tsippi Livni  defeated their chief rival, Likud and Binyamin Netanyahu.

Consistently, the polls show her party the leader of the two largest parties. The three networks’ exit polls, published at 10 PM Israel time when the polls closed, show a gap of at least two Knesset seats. It was undeniably a dramatic personal victory, with Livni leading her party to a comeback in the polls far beyond expectations -- just weeks ago, Kadima trailed Likud by a far wider margin. (UPDATE: Israelis woke Wednesday morning to the news that Livni's actual lead was narrower than the polls had indicated -- a mere one seat ahead of Likud)

But the ecstatic rejoicing at her party headquarters could be short-lived. When it comes to building a coalition, the task won’t be simple for whichever leader President Shimon Peres charges with the task.

Presuming that person is Livni, she will have to face the fact that while she may have out-polled the Likud, simple arithmetic shows that the right-wing bloc is significantly larger than the left-wing bloc -- a fact which will make her job of coalition-forming extremely challenging.

The big question is if a unity government is possibly in the cards. Presuming Livni gets first crack at forming the government, she has the option of inviting the Likud to join her. They can then either accept -- or hold out, hoping that her attempt fails and they will get a turn at coalition-building.

There was a clear sign that Netanyahu and the Likud have no plans to make life easy for Livni. Immediately after the results came in, Netanyahu declared that he, not the woman who out-polled him, would be the next prime minister.

He's done it before, as Bradley Burston of Ha'aretz was quick to point out:

The predicted results, if they stand up in the actual vote count and in the later tallies of soldiers' votes, would be a stunning mirror-echo of Netanyahu's triumphant 1996 run for the premiership, in which he overcame a 20 percentage point deficit in opinion polls to edge incumbent Shimon Peres.

It will fall to Peres, as president, to make the decision on whether to ask Livni or Netanyahu to try to form the government. Netanyahu's task would likely be numerically easier, as he could rely on right-leaning parties for 63-64 Knesset votes, clearing the 61 needed for approval.

But initial indications showed that Livni could field a broad coalition anchored by Kadima's 29-30 seats, the Likud's 27, and the 13 expected to be held by the center-left Labor.

Indeed, most of the walking wounded following the exit polls are on the left, notably the once-indomitable Labor Party, whose support sank to a pitiful 13 seats, leading pundits to speculate immediately that Ehud Barak's days as party leader may once again be numbered.

Posted February 9: Malaise in Israel on Eve of Election

Never have so many Israeli voters been so undecided so close to the day of an election.

In a country that is famous for being traditionally divided between left and right, where strong opinions are the order of the day, few Israelis feel that their vote tomorrow might truly help put their country on a path towards peace and progress. Many may be voting with full determination and earnestness, but few are voting with certainty.

The day before the election, it seems that everywhere one goes, everyone is quizzing each other with the same question: "So, do you know who you are voting for?"

When the answer "I haven't decided yet" is given, what follows is not a lobbying effort to convince one's conversation partner, but usually commiseration: "Neither have I."

What generally ensues is a dialogue as to which parties are under consideration, and the pros and cons of the decision.

Such conversations are remarkably similar on both the right and the left. The two major parties -- Kadima and Likud -- are in a neck and neck tie in the last round of pre-election polls. Under the Israeli system, following the election the country's president charges the party leader with the best chance of forming a coalition with the job of forming a government. The two candidates in this case are obviously Likud's Binyamin Netanyahu or Kadima's Tsipi Livni.

Israelis get one vote, and there are a myriad of parties to choose from, each emphasizing everything from a particular interest -- everything from religion to environmentalism. Both right and left must decide whether to vote with their head or their heart. Many whose true political sentiments fall significantly further left than Kadima -- whose list is populated with not a few right-wing members -- or who are attracted to the Green Party  are being sorely tempted  (and openly pressured)  to give their vote to Kadima in order to block Netanyahu's ascension to power. As a newly popular Facebook group puts it, "Anybody But Bibi."