Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 19 October 2019

How Israel got its second election in a year

This is the first time in the country's history that two votes will take place in a single calendar year

In this Sunday, September 8, 2019 file photo, a worker hangs an election campaign billboard of the Likud party showing US President Donald Trump, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv. AP
In this Sunday, September 8, 2019 file photo, a worker hangs an election campaign billboard of the Likud party showing US President Donald Trump, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv. AP

Israelis will head to the polling booths on Tuesday to vote for the second time in five months. It has once again been a rancourous affair, with Israel's longest-serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, pulling out all of the stops to secure the majority coalition that he needs to once again secure the premiership.

Both he and his right-wing Likud party is again facing off with his closest opponent, former Israeli military chief Benny Gantz, who heads the Blue and White coalition.

But how has the country got itself into this situation?

In April's vote, Mr Netanyahu just edged Mr Gantz in votes but he failed to secure an outright majority in the 120-seat parliament. The populist was relying on right-wing and far-right allies to take him over the line, until a longtime ally turned rival refused to join him.

Avigdor Lieberman, his former defence minister and one-time aide during his first premiership in the 1990s, sought a more secular coalition, squabbling over the inclusion of ultra-Orthodox politicians who did not want students in their community to face the military draft imposed on the rest of Israeli society. It is an issue that deeply divides Israeli society.

The 120 Knesset (parliament) seats are allocated by proportional representation to party lists. In order to win seats, a party must get at least 3.25 per cent of the national vote, equivalent to 4 seats. In the election in April, Likud and Blue and White came out on top, tied at 35 seats each. No one party has ever won an outright majority of the 120-seat Knesset in 71 years of nationhood. This makes post-election coalitions the key to victory, and negotiations can stretch on for weeks.

The Israeli leader, furious that Mr Lieberman stabbed him in the back, called him a "serial toppler" of governments, while the 60-year-old former defence chief, who once served as a former nightclub bouncer, said the Israeli leader had a "cult of personality".

Mr Netanyahu had called the election for April in January after Israeli police recommended that he be indicted in three corruption cases that have threatened to engulf his political career. So when he failed to shore up the coalition he needed, he moved to dissolve parliament, forcing new elections in the same year and sending the country into uncharted waters.

He faces a hearing in October and securing the majority coalition he needs this time around will be essential to defending his case. Observers believe that he will look to form a coalition even further to the right in order to pass legislation that will provide him with immunity from prosecution.

The polls indicate that both parties are close again and that means that Israel could even head for an unprecedented third election if no party can form a majority government. But Mr Gantz has called upon Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to ensure that the country does not reach that point.

Whether Mr Lieberman will join with Mr Netanyahu this time, after such a controversial year in their relationship, remains to be seen.

Updated: September 16, 2019 06:48 PM

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