Seats by bloc: Israel 2015 vs. 2013

An important lesson from this week’s Israeli election: in complex multi-bloc political systems, the government that forms really is at least as much about the inter-party bargaining between elections as it is about the elections themselves.

Yesterday I noted the (small) changes in votes for the right, Here I will look at all the blocs. Note: blocs, plural–point being, there is no single left or center-left bloc to oppose the right or replace it as government. Caution: the 2015 results are not yet official.

Labor won 15 seats in 2013, and Tzipi Livni’s HaTnuah won 6. The blended list of these two forces (branded Zionist Union) is at 24 in the preliminary results of this election. [some correction of sloppy writing since original posting]

By contrast, the main parties of the right, Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, and Bayit Yehudi, appear to have won 44 seats in this election. They won 43 in 2013 (when the first two of these had a blended list).

Yes, that is a net gain of 3 for the center-left and a net gain of 1 for the right. Such a landslide for Bibi!

We should add Meretz to the left bloc; this party won 6 seats in 2013 and looks to have 5 in 2015. So that would bring the net gain to this larger definition of the left down to 2.

The ultra-orthodox (Haredi) parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, combine for 13 seats. That is a fairly substantial drop from 18 in 2013.

The Joint List of Arab parties and the Jewish-Arab party, Hadash, is currently on 13 seats, whereas the three separate lists presented by this bloc (if we can even call it that, other than for threshold-clearing purposes this time) won 11 in 2013.

And then there is the assemblage of centrist parties (not counting Linvi’s, which we already accounted for): Yesh Atid, Kadima, and Kulanu. These parties combined for 21 seats (19 of them for Yesh Atid) in 2013. They also have 21 in this election, with Kadmia no longer in existence and Kulanu new to the scene.

Toting things up by bloc, from winners to losers:

    Arab +2
    Left +2
    Right +1
    Center +/- 0
    Haredi -5

Not much change, but the smallest gainer and biggest loser have enough to form a government, when combined with the centrist (or soft right) Kulanu.

The real difference in government outcomes will be less the voting patterns having shifted than shifts since 2013 in inter-party relations. In 2013, the election outcome would have allowed a right-Haredi coalition with the absolute bare majority of seats, 61. For various reasons, Likud leader and PM Benjamin Netanyahu preferred to bring into the coalition the election’s biggest seat gainer, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (who had 19 seats). Lapid and Naftali Bennet, leader of Bayit Yehudi, however, jointly thwarted the inclusion of the Haredi parties, having both campaigned (for their own reasons) in favor of “equalizing the burden” (ending military exemptions for the ultra-orthodox). Netanyahu never wanted this coalition, and seized upon various (largely manufactured) policy disagreements in late 2014 to un-do the government and force an early election. And now he can form a coalition with his natural partners, and with a likely more pliant centrist force in Kulanu. This latter party is headed by a former Likud minister and includes a former ambassador to the US (who served under Netanyahu).

Bottom line: There is no big shift to the right whatsoever in this election. But, with Shas and UTJ replacing Lapid and Livni, there will be a shift in both a right and religiously Orthodox direction to the governing coalition.

Political party controllers: The case of Likud

How many political parties are organized to have an internal controller with authority to sanction the party leader? I do not think I have heard of such a case before. The controller* for the Likud Party has disqualified incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the party’s leadership primary in advance of the snap election (set for March, 2015). The disqualification is due to allegations of misuse of party funds and other resources.

There is dispute about whether, in fact, the Likud controller can do this. The case itself is interesting, and could even add to the woes that suggest that Netanyahu could be “finished“. But the general question is of even more interest: do other parties have such powerful internal checks? (Powerful, that is, if this disqualification is not overturned on procedural grounds.)

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* Yes, the article refers to the “comptroller”, but as far as I know the correct pronunciation is always “controller” and so it should be spelled.

The ways a cabinet can be terminated

There is a literature in political science on government (cabinet) termination in parliamentary democracies. This is not a review of that literature. Rather, it is an accounting of three recent cases that illustrate different ways that a government in a parliamentary democracy can end.

We can have a party based on an electoral majority that seeks a fresh mandate. That is, a party–or bloc of parties running together in the election– that has won a majority of seats, but, for strategic reasons, decides to hold an early election. Exhibit: Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Liberal Democratic Party) announced a snap election on 18 November, despite about two years remaining on the term and a comfortable majority won in the 2012 election. The election will be 14 December.

We can have a coalition government, formed by bargaining among multiple parties after an election, which holds a majority of seats. The parties might have a falling out over one or more policy issues, and the parties break up the government rather than resolve their differences within it. Exhibit: Israel. On 2 December, Prme Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired two ministers, each of whom heads a party that was in his coalition: Finance Minister Yair Lapid (of the Yesh Atid party) and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (of HaTnua). The firing, which meant the breakup of the coalition, followed weeks of rancor over the budget and a bill backed particularly by another coalition partner, the Jewish Home party, that critics (including the ceremonial president) said would elevate the state’s Jewish character over its democratic character. New elections will be 17 March.

We can have a minority cabinet, in which the party or parties holding ministerial positions do not hold a majority of parliamentary seats, with no available backing from among the non-governmental parties in parliament, and which fails to get the support needed to pass its budget. Exhibit: Sweden. On 3 December, the minority center-left government of Prime Minister Stefan Lofven lost a budget vote, 153-182, and announced there would be a snap election. The wild card here was the Sweden Democrats, a far-right or “populist” party that neither Lofven nor the center-right opposition wanted to be seen to deal with following elections that were held less than three months ago. When the center-right would not back the budget, the government effectively lost its right to continue governing. A new election is expected to be set for 22 March.

One could say that these were listed not only in chronological order, but in reverse order of “necessity”. There was no reason why Japan needed an early election–its government has a solid majority. The Israeli election call is also not exactly necessary–the parties whose leaders Netanyahu fired were not in anything like open rebellion even if they were in policy disagreement (which is, after all, natural in coalitions). It was, however, a coalition that the PM himself clearly never wanted, and was forced upon him by the election results in early 2013 and the bargaining stances of other parties (specifically, Yesh Atid and Jewish Home). Polls show the potential of a much stronger right-wing bloc in a new election. So, it is an opportunistic call, but arguably less unnecessary than Japan’s. The Swedish situation, on the other hand, is one of real deadlock.

Of all these countries, the one that has the lowest tendency towards early elections is Sweden, even though minority governments are quite common there. Usually, however, they have had a fairly reliable “outside” party to back them on budgets or other confidence matters. Israel has frequent early elections–although this one will be earlier than any in years–and usually has oversized governments (meaning containing more parties than actually needed to have a parliamentary majority–such as the just-collapsed one). Japan usually has electoral-majority governments, but has had many early elections, including the famous one of 2005, also called by a government that had a secure election-based majority, but wanted (and got) a bigger one to push through reforms blocked by intra-party resistance.

All these great examples of early elections in parliamentary systems, and it wasn’t even my teaching quarter for any of my comparative democracy courses.