Middle East

How a rule change helped Netanyahu win Israel’s elections

Analysis by Richard Allen Greene, Amir Tal and Hadas Gold, CNN

Jerusalem and London CNN  —  Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu owes his victory in last week’s Israeli elections partly to a change in election rules promoted by the political opponents he is now shutting out of power, CNN analysis of the November 1 results shows.

Netanyahu and his allies are set to have a small but clear majority of seats in parliament, the Knesset, but they won the popular vote by only a razor-thin margin.

One reason his Knesset majority is bigger than his popular vote victory is that three parties in the outgoing Knesset each got less than 3.25 percent of the popular vote – so they get no seats in the new parliament.

The irony of the situation is that it was Avigdor Liberman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party and Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid who pushed to raise the threshold from 2 percent to 3.25 percent in 2014, when they were political allies of Netanyahu and in government with him.

Partly because of the rule change they wanted, they’re now part of the outgoing coalition that he defeated. The Lapid-Liberman coalition would have gained seats if the threshold was still 2 percent.

Another reason Netanyahu won decisively is that two small parties in the anti-Netanyahu camp didn’t join forces with bigger parties, one of Israel’s leading pollsters said.

If the left-wing Meretz party had run on a joint ticket with Labor, and the Arab party Balad had not broken away from the Joint List party they ran with last time, then Tuesday’s election would have produced a 60-60 deadlock, Camil Fuchs, a leading Israeli pollster, told CNN Monday.

Both parties failed to cross the threshold: Meretz won 3.2 percent of the popular vote and Balad took 2.9 percent. Together they drew less than 300,000 votes.

All the votes for those parties were effectively discarded.

The popular vote was extremely close.

If all the votes for the parties in the outgoing Knesset are counted, Netanyahu and his allies come out less than 40,000 votes ahead of their opponents, out of more than 4.7 million votes cast.

There were 40 parties running in the November 1 election, of which 13 got more than 0.5 percent of the popular vote.

Five of those 13 – Likud, Religious Zionism/Jewish Power, Shas, United Torah Judaism, and Jewish Home – are on the pro-Netanyahu side of Israel’s political divide. Together they took 49.6 percent of the popular vote, final results from the Central Election Committee show – about 2.36 million votes.

The other eight are anti-Netanyahu and took 48.9 percent of the popular vote, or about 2.33 million votes – a difference of 0.7 percentage points, or just over 30,000 votes.

The exact number of votes per party will be certified on November 9.

But the electoral threshold rule worked in Netanyahu’s favor. Only one of the parties on his side, Jewish Home, failed to get more than 3.25 percent of the total vote; they got 1.2 percent, or 56,760 votes – and would have been forced out of the Knesset under the old 2 percent rule, anyway.

The threshold has been decisive in at least one previous election. Labor leader Yitzhak Rabin became prime minister in 1992 although the left lost the popular vote; a right-wing party failed to cross the threshold, which was 1.5 percent at the time.

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