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February 11, 2009
As rivals declare victory, Israeli election still undecided


Voting in Israel.

The two leading candidates in Israel’s national elections, Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni, have both claimed victory in the tight race.

Current results from Tuesday’s vote suggest that Livni’s centrist Kadima party will get 28 seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, while Netanyahu’s right-leaning Likud will get 27.

President Shimon Peres will decide between the two, and then either Netanyahu or Livni will have 42 days for form a coalition government.

Right-leaning parties also gained more power in the elections, which could impact the peace process and the U.S. approach in the region.

The “Not a Fish” blog describes what will happen in the coming days:

My difficulty right now is that things are going to be very unstable now. We might eventually have to go to another election, which will be awful.

[…]First of all, we wait. We have already woken up to a slightly different situation. The exit polls were slightly slanted towards the left, as usual. Kadima has 28 seats while Likud has 27. Lieberman 15, Shas got 11 and poor Meretz is down to 3. Besides that it’s pretty much the same as last night.

So we have to wait for the votes of the soldiers, the diplomats abroad and the sailors (merchant). The votes of the diplomats and the sailors are negligible, but the soldiers tend to be right wing and there is a chance that their votes could make a small difference.

Then we wait to see how the excess votes are distributed according to the agreements the parties made before the elections.

What happens then is that the president conducts consultations with the various factions and then gives the job of forming the coalition to the head of the party that has the best chance of creating a coalition, not necessarily to the party that got more votes. None of this will happen before next week at the earliest.

Blogger “Carl” in Jerusalem discusses the latest rumors about the shape the new government will take:

But in Israel this morning, the word is that Israeli diplomats in Washington are already trying to explain to the Obama administration what happened and anticipating a right-leaning coalition led by the Likud’s Binyamin Netanyahu (27 seats). […]

Meanwhile, Kadima is trying to push a ‘national unity’ government with (Minister Meir Sheetrit in an Israel Radio interview this morning) or without (‘senior members’ of Kadima) a rotation in the top spot. That seems very unlikely right now. And in another Israel Radio interview this morning, the Likud’s Sylvan Shalom (former foreign minister and one of the more left-leaning MK’s in the Likud) rejected outright the idea of a rotation between Netanyahu and Livni in the top spot.

Another blogger in Israel, “Karen Russo,” describes her voting experience:

When I got in line, there were maybe seven or eight people ahead of me, and because they allowed only one person into a classroom at a time, it took a few minutes. When you’re directed to enter the voting room, you present your ID papers and the voting card, and your name is checked off. Then they hand you an official numbered envelope, and direct you to go behind a little screen set up on a table. Behind the screen is a box with little paper cards for each of the eligible parties.

For whatever reason, on each of the little – 3″ x 4″ – paper voting cards, parties are identified by a symbol, not by name. So I knew I was voting for National Union — the great Zionist party of Yaakov Katz, “Katzeleh” — whose symbol is the Hebrew letter “Tet”, so all I had to do was to find the paper with the “Tet”, put it in the envelope, seal it, then take it outside and put it into a slotted box.

Why do they do that? Use party symbols, rather than at listing the party name itself? I’m not sure, but my guess is that because in any Israeli election, a lot of voters are new immigrants. Many can’t read Hebrew, so they need something very simple that even an illiterate voter can recognize.

Outside the gate, the Likud people were out in force, as was Shas, because both have big blocks of voters in Beersheba. One young man — probably in his late teens – stopped me outside the gate and tried to convince me to vote for Avigdor Lieberman. I declined, and he asked who I was voting for, and I told him. “Oh,” he said, waving me ahead. “That’s okay.”

Watch a video of voting from YouTube user RonnieRoxx:

Blogger “Reb Barry,” a new citizen of Israel, compares the elections in Israel to the 2008 U.S. presidential election:

The election season in Israel was certainly a lot different than in the U.S.; limited in time and intensity. I think there is a huge amount of voter apathy this time. None of the candidates is really all that exciting. Israelis definitely want a prime minister that would give them hope, and none of them seems to be offering much hope.

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg outlines some significant implications of the results:

I’ve been talking to friends in Tel Aviv. A number of quick observations:

The stunner, for me at least: The Labor Party is dead. More than that, the peace camp is  dead, or comatose, at least. According to exit poll numbers I heard, Haifa and Tel Aviv went for Livni (who is no leftist, except in comparison to Netanyahu and Lieberman); the south went for the hard right. The rockets voted, in other words.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user maxnathans under a Creative Commons license.

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