Last night, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced plans to dissolve the current Knesset and call elections for early 2013. He said that the security and economic situations in Israel require advancement of the vote. The elections had been scheduled for fall 2013. The new date is likely to be sometime between January 23 and February 12.
Netanyahu’s Likud party is clearly the frontrunner in this race. The two most authoritative recent polls (Camil Fuchs/Haaretz, Sept. 28 and Rafi Smith/Globes, Sept. 27) give Likud 28 seats in Knesset (up from the 27 seats it holds currently). Shaul Mofaz’s Kadima party seems headed into a nosedive, polling only 4 to 8 seats (down from the 28 seats it currently has in Knesset). Shelly Yachimovich’s Labor party is surging to an expected 19 to 20 seats (up from 8 seats).
Yesh Atid, a new party formed by former Channel 2 anchorman Yair Lapid, is polling 8 to 11 seats. Yisrael Beiteinu, the party led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, retains its strength at 14-16 seats, as does the Sephardic Orthodox party, Shas, with 10-11 seats.
The National Union (Ihud Leumi) and Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi), the two factions of what was once the National Religious Party, together poll about 6 seats. Atzmaut, Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s party, which split from Labor, might make it into parliament with 2 seats (the minimum threshold). The Ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (Yahadut HaTorah) polls 5 to 7 seats. The hard left Meretz polls 3 to 5 seats.
There are also two non-Zionist Israeli Arab parties in the Knesset – Balad and Raam-Taal – and one non-Zionist, joint Arab-Jewish party (Hadash). Most pollsters group the three together, and they hold 11 seats in Knesset with no change expected.
If these poll numbers remain steady, Netanyahu should have an easy time forming the next government. The center-right and religious bloc currently governing Israel will also dominate the 19th Knesset.
In addition, every party except Meretz and the Arab parties, is a potential member of the next government. Lapid says clearly that he wants to be a minister in the next government. Labor chairwoman Yachimovich has consistently refused to rule out joining a Netanyahu government. It’s clear that Mofaz’s Kadima party and Barak’s Atzmaut party – or what is left of them – would also be partners in a new Netanyahu government, along with Likud’s natural partners: Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas and United Torah Judaism.
But before the fight between the parties comes the fight within the parties. Likud’s primary (in November) is going to be a fierce fight. Five to nine sitting Likud MKs are expected to be dropped from its next Knesset slate. In contrast, Labor – which polls show growing from 8 to 20 seats – will have plenty of room for new faces. (Although note: Former prominent defense officials like Gabi Ashkenazi, Meir Dagan, Amos Yadlin, and Yoav Galant are not eligible to run in the upcoming election). Mofaz is likely to cancel the Kadima primaries and dictate the party’s slate himself.
The big unknown in the race is the possible return to active politics of former Kadima politicians Ehud Olmert and/or Tzipi Livni – who could attempt to lead a new party or a coalition of center left parties. Such a coalition – considered a long shot – could theoretically pull votes away from Likud, and if it tops Likud in the vote, then demand that President Shimon Peres give it first crack at forming the next government. But Olmert still has a series of legal hurdles ahead of him, and the short (three month long) campaign doesn’t give Olmert much time to organize and overcome his difficulties.
Israeli polling agencies are expected to publish early public opinion surveys this Thursday and Friday, including Fuchs and Smith, and Dialog (on contract to Israel TV Channel 10), Maagar Mochot/Prof. Itzhak Katz (IDF Radio), Dahaf/Dr. Mina Tzemach (Yediot Ahronot), Teleseker (Maariv), and Geocartography/Prof. Avi Degani (TV Channel 1). Some of these polls will undoubtedly take into account the impact of possible runs by Olmert and/or Livni.
Next: The issues.