Middle East briefing: Hurry up, wait on PM election

By Gil Elan

By the time you read this column, the Israeli elections will be over, the votes tallied and the results published. But unless a miracle happens, it could be days…or even weeks…before we know who the next Israeli prime minister will be.
This is because in the Israeli political system of indirect “proportionate representation,” voters elect members of the 120 seat Knesset (parliament) by voting for one of the more than 20 parties running in any given election.
After tallying all the votes, all 120 legislative seats are allocated in proportion to the percentage of the votes each party received.
So if Party X received 40 percent of the popular nationwide vote, it will get 40 percent of the seats = 48 seats; a lot, for sure…but not enough.
Since the prime minister and government are elected and empowered by the Knesset in a simple majority vote of at least 61 members of Knesset, our hypothetical Party X would have to form a coalition with other parties to get the necessary minimum of 61 votes, and potential coalition partners, even those who are ideologically similar on most issues, will come with demands based on their own political and personal agendas. Let the horse-trading begin.
After a week or more, the Israeli president, a normally ceremonial and non-political office, performs his one and only political role: After non-binding consultation with all the parties that won seats in the recent election, he nominates a member of the new Knesset to try to form a coalition government that will have the minimum 61 seat backing for a vote of confidence in the new government, with the nominee as prime minister.
Usually the president’s nominee has been the leader of one of the larger parties: Labor and its earlier incarnations down to David Ben-Gurion’s Mapai Party in the first years of the state, or Likud and its predecessors down to Menachem Begin’s “Revisionist” Herut party. But … not always! By Israeli law, the only requisite is that the prime minister elect must be a current Member of Knesset.
And here’s where things get really interesting and unpredictable this time.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is President and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org. Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org. DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.

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