Lieberman leaps ahead to challenge Livni

The gap between Israel Beiteinu and Kadima is now within the range of statistical error.

Next Wednesday, the day after Israel's general election, all eyes will be on one person. Not Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, and not Kadima leader Tzipi Livni. Everyone will wait for the pronouncement of Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of Israel Beiteinu, on whom he will recommend to President Shimon Peres as the person to form the next government.

With the latest "Globes"-Geocartography poll predicting that his party will win 21 out the Knesset's 120 seats, up from 17 seats in last week's poll, Lieberman is the one who will decide who will be prime minister. He is the new kingmaker.

If that title previously belonged to Shas leader Eli Yishai, it has now passed to Lieberman. It looks as though Yishai made a fatal error when he decided not to join a coalition led by Livni, the decision that led to these elections. He did receive a promise from Netanyahu that child allowances would be raised, but Shas has lost its status as the party holding the balance of power. The poll gives Shas 10 seats, making it only the fifth largest party.

According to the poll, the battle between Labor and Israel Beiteinu has been decided. Lieberman is clearly the leader of the third largest party. He can now break off the battle with Labor chairman Ehud Barak and challenge Livni for second place. The gap between Israel Beiteinu and Kadima is now within the range of statistical error, with Kadima currently predicted to take 22-23 seats, up from 21 last week.

After losing altitude dramatically in the past few weeks, Likud has now stabilized on 26 seats, compared with 24-25 in last week's poll. Most of the support it has lost has gone to Lieberman.

If the poll proves correct, this will be the third time in Israel's history that no party has passed the 30-seat mark. The last time it happened was in 1999, when Barak won the premiership. Labor (One Israel) won 26 seats in that election, Likud 19, and Shas 17. Within eighteen months Barak resigned and there were more elections.

At the time, the blame was put on the split-vote system, with voters being able to vote separately for parties in the Knesset and for prime minister. But now, after the old single-vote system has been restored, the result is similar. The problem is apparently not with the system but with the leadership vacuum. Ariel Sharon won 38 seats in 2003, but no-one else is capable of such a feat. The result is four medium-sized parties, none of them dominant. This means an unstable coalition in which the member parties will be able to extract large concession to their constituencies. Another election is likely before very long.

Despite the changes between individual parties, the picture as far as right-wing and left-wing blocks are concerned is stable. The left has 51 seats, the right 69. That means that Netanyahu will most likely form the government. But if a month he looked as though he was in coalition heaven, now it looks more like hell.

If the elections were held today, which party would you vote for?

Result in numbers of Knesset seats.
The number in brackets is the number of seats in the outgoing Knesset.

Likud 26 (12)
Kadima 22-23 (29)
Israel Beiteinu 20-21 (11)
Labor 15-16 (19)
Shas 10 (12)
National Union 6 (-)*
United Torah Judaism 5 (6)
Meretz 5 (5)
Hadash 5 (3)
Arab list 3 (4)
Habayit Hayehudi 2 (9)*

*National Union-NRP

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes.co.il - on February 5, 2009

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2009

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