Israeli party realignment?

The Israeli political party system may be undergoing some sort of realignment since the calling of elections for January, 2013. The biggest news at this point is the union of the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu (YB) parties, a move approved with no significant dissent.

According to a radio or TV report I heard, ((I forget whether it was IBA TV news or Arutz Sheva radio, both of which I follow.)) the plan is for Likud and YB to divide the list positions in the same ratio of their current Knesset representation (roughly 2:1). Most of the media reports say this is a “merger” but if the parties are retaining their distinct identities–as seems to be the case–it is simply a joint list instead.

Frankly, I do not understand the logic of the joint list (or merger). The two parties would be expected coalition partners again in any case, and Likud is highly unlikely to be displaced as the largest party whether running alone or in this combine. Some analysts have said, and some early polls suggest, that the combined list could get fewer seats than the two parties running independently. This makes sense to me, as some Orthodox voters on the fence between Likud and Shas or another smaller party might be repelled by YB leader Lieberman and his support for civil marriage, among other issues. Some floating voters of the center might be scared off by Lieberman’s perceived extremism and vote for Labor or another party instead. There is already at least one potential formal splinter, to be led by outgoing Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon. However, in Israel many more splinters are talked about, or even tried, than ever become relevant.

So why form a joint list? I don’t find it credible that the various parties already existing or being formed (or just talked about) on the center-left would form a joint list, though the Likud Beiteinu, as it is being called, looks like an attempt to preempt just such a threat. Of course, speaking of preemption, there are those who have claimed it makes a post-election raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities more likely. I don’t buy that; if such a raid is going to happen, the two parties don’t need to have run as one. There is no evident daylight between them on this issue, and if there were, it is hard to see how the joint list would fundamentally resolve it.

Meanwhile, the Labor Party, under its new leader Shelly Yacimovich, is making changes in its list-construction process. Haaretz reports,

There will be greater flexibility in the slots on the Labor Party’s Knesset list reserved for specific sectoral interests ­ such as kibbutzniks, female and Arab delegates, ­ it was decided at a party convention Tuesday evening.

These slots will also be voted on by the entire party, not only by the small group of members belonging to the specific sector, it was also agreed.

I suppose this suggests that they are not really sectoral representatives anymore, but maybe that’s precisely the point. Ascriptive representation of these sectors would remain, but without delegating out the nomination process to the sectors that get these slots. The former system and this reform offer two competing models about how parties go about “balancing” their lists.

Throughout the campaign, you can follow polls at the Knesset Poll Tracker. I would observe that it must be hard to track polls–or to poll–when the lineup of parties remains so uncertain. But it seems pollsters ask about just about any imaginable combination.

8 thoughts on “Israeli party realignment?

  1. Likud Beitenu may well be a true merger. Sometimes parties merge while only gradually shedding their separate identities.

  2. Isn’t a joint list, an apparentment? Israel still uses that method of parties pooling votes together? What other countries use this method? Is it a good idea, or does it fragment the party system?

  3. To be clear, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu are running a single list, not merely pooling remainders (which is the apparentement procedure in Israel).

  4. The Hebrew page with polling data by Tal Schneider is so much more detailed than the English one at 972 Mag (which I linked to above). Not that much Hebrew is needed to read this, although knowing the letters and party names is rather helpful!

  5. Thanks for that link, MSS. It’s really bizarre to see such huge growth in the religious parties, going from 23 in the last Knesset to 32 in the latest polls. I guess it could be religious nationalist voters abandoning Likud now that Lieberman’s on board?

  6. Vasi said: “I guess [growth of religious parties in polls] could be religious nationalist voters abandoning Likud now that Lieberman’s on board?”

    This is something I would expect, yes. And as long as there is no serious threat of a left-led government instead of a Likud one, this is a “free” vote for the Orthodox sectors. They can increase their post-electoral leverage without risking that someone less sympathetic than Netanyahu is PM.

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