Israel Braces for Turmoil with No Clear Poll Victor

TEL AVIV ~ Israel’s tight election this week race risks plunging the country into unprecedented turmoil that is likely to result – yet again – in a patchy and unstable coalition, observers said.

President Shimon Peres has seven days to hold talks with political parties and then entrust the leader who has the most chance of securing a majority in the 120-member parliament to form the next government.

Although Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s centrist Kadima emerged the winner of Tuesday’s election with 28 seats, analysts say former premier Benjamin Netanyahu has a better chance of cobbling together a right-wing coalition after his Likud party won 27 seats.

The result was a surprise as pollsters had predicted a clear-cut victory for Netanyahu although Livni – whose failure to form a coalition last year triggered the snap election – gained ground in the last days of the campaign.

“The election results throw Israel’s political reality into an extremely complex situation,” said political science expert Orit Galilee from Bar Ilan university.

“No one really won in the elections. Livni won in seats but does not have a bloc in parliament. Netanyahu has a bloc but does not head the largest party.”

Observers say Netanyahu could put together a 65-member coalition but it would include no fewer than six parties whose rivalries – such as the feud between the secular Yisrael Beitenu party and the ultra-Orthodox Shas – may impede Netanyahu’s ability to govern.

If Netanyahu instead make good on his calls for a broad unity government, he will have to bring in Kadima and perhaps the Labour party which will entail a heavy political price on both sides, they said.

“It will be much easier for Netanyahu to form a right-wing government, but I am not sure he will want that. The other option will require sacrifices and generosity from political rivals,” Galilee said.

Both Livni and Netanyahu declared themselves victors and vowed to head the next government but some suggested the two rivals may try to form a unity government with a rotating premiership.

Livni, like many Kadima MPs, was once a leading Likud member, but the two parties’ sharply contrasting views on key issues, largely the lifeless peace talks with the Palestinians, may prove to be a huge stumbling block on the path to unity.

“There are quite a lot of Kadima MPS who wish to enter into coalition with Likud which together with one more party form a majority,” said political science professor Peter Medding of Jerusalem’s Hebrew university.

“Both parties spoke of a national unity government, so the question is if they are able to reach an agreement on the key issues such as the peace process with the Palestinians, Syria and the economic situation.”

A rotating government – where parties take turns in the prime minister’s chair – is not new to Israeli politics.

In 1984, the Likud headed by Yitzhak Shamir and Labour led by Shimon Peres formed a unity government following an election stalmate. Although the government held, it is remembered for failing to make crucial decisions.

Kadima MP Othniel Schneller voiced confidence that Livni and Netanyahu would form a unity government.

“We are heading towards a unity government because I can not see any other way. The exact structure and mechanism of this government will have to be worked out in the coming days,” he said.

“A broad government is crucial for facing Israel’s threats.”

Dore Gold, a close Netanyahu advisor, said that Likud and Kadima “have the potential to form a unity government.”

“The parties may differ on the theoretical level over their positions, but what is needed today is unity in order to face the Iranian problem and offer Israel’s citizens security based on diplomatic pragmatism,” Gold said.

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