Explained: Why Israel is headed to its 5th election in 3 years, and what now

Israel’s fragile and short-lived coalition government announced Monday that it will introduce a bill next week to dissolve parliament. paving the way for a fifth election in three yearsand the possible return to power of the country’s longest-serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel’s four previous elections between 2019 and 2021 were in fact plebiscites over whether Netanyahu could rule while on trial on serious corruption charges. Netanyahu, who was indicted in November 2019, has denied the charges.

Once the bill is passed, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing political alliance Yamina, will resign, and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, leader of the liberal centrist party Yesh Atid, will become interim prime minister until a new government is formed. under the power-sharing agreement of the ruling coalition. According to commentators, the elections will take place in the fall.

The ideologically divided coalition — the most diverse in Israel’s history — lost its slim majority in April after a lawmaker defection from Bennett’s Yamina. The government faced its biggest setback on June 6, after the opposition, along with members of the rebel coalition, helped defeat a bill aimed at renewing legal protections for Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank.

election process

Israel has no written constitution, and under its basic laws, parliamentary elections are held every four years unless the Knesset decides by a simple majority to dissolve it and take early elections.

Unlike in India, Israeli voters vote for parties, not specific candidates. All Israeli citizens 18 years and older are allowed to vote. Palestinians living in Israeli-occupied territory cannot vote.

There are 120 seats in the Knesset and to form the government, a party needs at least 61 seats. However, no party has ever achieved a majority on its own, and governing alliances of 8-12 parties have been the norm. These parties represent interests of specific groups, and the members of a coalition may take conflicting or competing positions.

People stand in front of a billboard for the election campaign for the Likud party with a portrait of its leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and opposition party leader Yair Lapid, in Ramat Gan, Israel on March 14, 2021. (AP)

After members of the Knesset are elected, the Israeli president chooses the candidate he believes is most likely to form a coalition. The candidate, often the leader of the largest party, is given 28 days, with a possible 14-day extension, to form the government.

2 years, 4 elections

After winning his fourth term in 2015, Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud party was able to assemble a ruling coalition at the 11th hour. But he was forced to dissolve parliament and hold snap elections in April 2019, following the resignation of his defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the right-wing secular nationalist party Yisrael Beiteinu.

However, Netanyahu was unable to secure the seats to form a government, and another election followed in September 2019. But again, neither Netanyahu nor his Blue and White Party rival Benny Gantz were able to form the government.

In the Israeli system, the only way to break a deadlock is to hold elections until someone has a majority, so a third election was held in March 2020 – again inconclusive.

In April 2020, Netanyahu was able to form an “emergency” coalition government with his main rival Gantz. This tenuous alliance would last only seven months; in December, the fragmented governing coalition failed to pass the budget in the Knesset, leading to a fourth election in March 2021.

A new coalition

Netanyahu, who remained interim prime minister during this period, finally lost power after 12 years in June 2021, when the Knesset approved Bennett as the new prime minister. Lapid would replace him in two years on the basis of the coalition agreement.

The eight-party coalition included both left-wing and right-wing parties, and both secular and religious groups. For the first time, an Arab party, the United Arab List or Ra’am, joined the government. These parties had little in common; what essentially united them was the desire to remove Netanhayu from power. From nearly Day 1, critics and commentators predicted that this impulse would not be enough to keep the extraordinarily broad alliance together.

What happens now

As Israel awaits elections — likely in late October due to legal restrictions and holiday delays — Netanyahu has called the developments “great news for millions of Israeli citizens” and has vowed to return to his office as prime minister.

According to recent polls, Netanyahu’s Likud is very likely to be the biggest in the next Knesset. What remains uncertain – as recent elections have shown – is whether he will be able to put together a ruling coalition. As a report in The New York Times noted, some parties will likely only want to partner with Likud if Netanyahu steps down as party leader. The former prime minister has dismissed the charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust, for which he is currently on trial, as a “witch hunt”.

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