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Route to 61: Forming a coalition after Israel's election

File photo. Photograph:( AFP )

AFP Jerusalem Sep 18, 2019, 04.02 PM (IST)

Israeli election results showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival Benny Gantz deadlocked, reports said Wednesday. 

If the results from Tuesday's election hold, they suggest a stark challenge for any party to form a viable coalition government under Israel's proportional system.

What is the procedure?

Various Israeli media reported that Netanyahu's right-wing Likud and Gantz's Blue and White had 32 seats each of parliament's 120 with more than 90 percent of the vote counted.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will ask the heads of all of the parties voted into the parliament, or Knesset, to nominate who they would like to form a government.

Whichever leader gets the most nominations will get the first chance to try and form a coalition.

They will have 28 days to try and form a viable coalition, with a potential 14-day extension. 

If that proves impossible, as after the previous election in April, Rivlin could then give another leader an opportunity.

Netanyahu headed off that possibility in April by opting for an unprecedented second election instead.

What is Netanyahu's path?

Netanyahu's route to retaining his rightwing government likely runs through one man: Avigdor Lieberman.

Three other rightwing parties -- the two ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties and religious nationalists Yamina -- have said they will recommend Netanyahu.

But that would still leave the bloc short of a majority.

Netanyahu would then need to turn to Lieberman, a former rightwing ally turned fierce rival who could become kingmaker.

This would likely involve pledging to curb the influence of the ultra-Orthodox parties, with which Lieberman has fraught relations.

The April election brought a similar result to Tuesday's, but Netanyahu was ultimately unable to convince Lieberman to join and called fresh polls.

What is Gantz's path?

Gantz could still get enough nominations to get his Blue and White coalition to 61 but his route appears difficult.

He may need the backing of two smaller leftwing parties, as well as the backing of the Joint List coalition of Arab Israeli parties, which the reported results showed could win 12 seats.

Arab parties have traditionally not endorsed anyone for prime minister, but have signalled they could back Gantz this time as they seek to oust Netanyahu.

But even then Gantz would be short of 61 votes, according to the reported results, with Lieberman's reported nine seats to play for.

Is a unity government possible?

A third option is a unity government including Likud, Blue and White and possibly Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party.

Lieberman said clearly Tuesday he would only support such a deal.

Earlier in the campaign, Gantz expressed an unwillingness to work with Likud as long as Netanyahu was in charge, but he did not reiterate that demand in his speech after the election.

Netanyahu signalled he may be open to the possibility of a unity government, though he would clearly prefer a right-wing coalition similar to the one he has now.

The 69-year-old has been in power for more than a decade and is a deeply polarising figure.

Blue and White has sought to encourage Netanyahu's Likud to replace him as leader before joining a coalition together.

There is so far no sign that would happen.

Fighting for his political career and with a hearing expected early next month over corruption allegations, Netanyahu indicated late Tuesday he planned to fight on as long as possible.

What about a third round?

Tuesday's results were not radically different to the polls in April that saw Netanyahu unable to form a majority coalition. He called a new election before Gantz was given the chance to try.

Another stalemate and unsuccessful negotiations could in theory even lead to the third round of elections, though Rivlin has pledged to do all he can to avoid that.

Story highlights

If the results from Tuesday's election hold, they suggest a stark challenge for any party to form a viable coalition government under Israel's proportional system.