Election threshold could determine next prime minister

Netanyahu and Gantz Photos: Shlomi Yosef and Tamar Matsafi

With several parties near the minimum vote threshold for winning any Knesset seats, Israel's election may be tighter than it looks.

How many votes equal a Knesset seat, how is the minimum vote threshold calculated, and what is a surplus votes agreement? Before election day, "Globes" sets out the stages to the formation of the 21st Knesset and the 35th government of Israel.

There are some 6.3 million Israelis aged over 18 with the right to vote at the 10,720 polling stations around the country. This is about half a million more than the size of the electorate in the last general election in 2015, and it will be interesting to see how the new crop of first-time voters cast their votes. In the last election, the turnout was relatively high, at 72.3%, which meant that each Knesset seat represented 33,511 votes.

The opinion polls predicting that many parties are situated near the minimum vote threshold have put many voters in a dilemma: whether to vote out of conviction for a small party that might not surpass the threshold, or to vote tactically for a large party. In the previous election, some 190,000 votes went to waste because of parties that failed to reach the minimum proportion of the vote - 3.25%. The problem is worse this time around, with a record number of 41 parties competing.

Then there are the surplus votes and surplus vote agreements. When all the votes are counted and an initial distribution of seats is made between the parties, each party will have some votes left over that do not amount to a whole seat - perhaps a few dozen, perhaps tens of thousands. In the previous election, 116 seats were allocated to the parties, leaving four to be allocated in a later stage.

How is it decided where those seats will go? The formula is a little complicated: the number of votes received by the party list divided by the number of seats allocated to it in the initial distribution plus 1. The parties receiving the highest results receive an extra seat. Before the election, parties can make surplus vote agreements, enabling them to divide up their surplus votes between them in the most advantageous way. Such agreements exist between Meretz and Labor; Israel Beiteinu and the New Right; Likud and Ichood Hayamin; Shas and United Torah Judaism; and Ra'am-Balad and Hadash-Ta'al. The Blue and White, Kulanu, Gesher and Zehut lists have not signed agreements.

At least eight lists in danger

According to the latest opinion polls, several prominent parties are liable to fail to reach the minimum vote threshold for receiving Knesset seats. The New Right, Zehut, Shas, Israel Beiteinu, Kulanu, Gesher, Meretz, and Ra'am-Balad are all in this category. Every party that does not reach the minimum vote could have a material effect on the balance between the left and right blocks, for its votes will be lost to the block to which it belongs.

President Rivlin's options

From this Wednesday, the focus shifts from the candidates to the president. The Basic Law: The Government states: "When a new government is to be formed, the president of the state, after consulting the representatives of the factions in the Knesset, will impose the task of forming a government on one of the members of the Knesset who agrees to accept it; the president will do so within seven days from the day the results of the election are published."

The results of the election will be published some time on Wednesday, so the week of consultation will stretch to the Thursday of the following week, just one day before the whole country takes a Passover break. The new Knesset will be sworn in on April 30, but forming the new government could take until the end of May.

The heads of the parties in the Knesset will come and go in the president's residence, and will tell him whom they and the Knesset members they represent recommend as the next prime minister. At this stage, it is clear that the representatives of Ichood Hayamin, the New Right, Likud, Israel Beiteinu, Shas and United Torah Judaism will recommend Benjamin Netanyahu. Moshe Kahlon and his Kulanu party are also counted in the right-wing block, after Kahlon's explicit statement to that effect at the end of last week. That being so, according to the latest polls, Netanyahu will have 55-59 recommendations.

On the other side, Blue and White and Benny Gantz can count on about 47 recommendations. What will the remaining 16 Knesset members do? The Arab parties will probably make no recommendation. Moshe Feiglin, head of the Zehut list, is for the moment keeping his cards close to his chest, even though he is more identified with the right. Blue and White contends that some lists will change their minds once the real results come out.

Another possibility is that more parties will decide not to make any recommendation. The high pressure campaigning by Netanyahu in the past few days stems from his suspicion that Kahlon and Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Liberman will sit on the fence, which could tilt the balance in favor of Blue and White.

If Likud wins the most seats and also the highest number of recommendations, Rivlin will have no doubt as to whom to invite to form a government. Even if Likud and Blue and White have about the same number of seats each and Likud has more recommendations (but not 61 of the 120 members of Knesset), the president will still presumably place the task on Netanyahu's shoulders.

What if there is a gap in number of seats in favor of Blue and White, and no party leader gains more than 60 recommendations? That is the great question.

The work of forming a government starts seven days after the election, that is, on April 18. The Knesset member charged with the task has 28 days in which to present a government, a period that the president can extend by 14 days. If the Knesset member in question fails to reach agreement with representatives of at least 61 Knesset seats, the president invites another Knesset member to take on the task, and he or she receives another 28 days to complete it.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on April 8, 2019

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019

Netanyahu and Gantz Photos: Shlomi Yosef and Tamar Matsafi
Netanyahu and Gantz Photos: Shlomi Yosef and Tamar Matsafi
Twitter Facebook Linkedin RSS Newsletters גלובס Israel Business Conference 2018