Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Record Low Turnout In Israeli Elections?

This really doesn't make any sense. Israel is facing serious and existentialist questions over what to do about the West Bank, settlements, and how to deal with Hamas, and the Israeli electorate sits on their hands and appears to be voting in lower numbers than in prior elections.

It doesn't make any sense, or does it?
The three largest parties, Kadima, Labor, and Likud, were under mounting pressure Tuesday evening, fearing that the lowest voter turnout in Israeli electoral history may sap their strength in the next Knesset.

A low turnout is expected to work in favor of smaller, ideology-driven parties, especially those of the right. It may also enable such issue-based factions as the Pensioners party to enter the Knesset for the first time.

Figures released as of 6 P.M. showed voter turnout running some five percentage points behind that of the 2003 elections. Election officials said only 47 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots by 6 P.M., compared to nearly 53 percent at that hour in 2003.
Kadima is expected to be hit hardest by the low turnout. Polls close at 10PM local time. The lowest turnout for Israeli elections was in 2003 when 66% of registered voters turned out. Roughly 65 million people are eligible to vote in the election. At this rate the turnout will be 7% lower than 2003. There's also been the usual assortment of protests and skirmishes.

Is the low turnout being generated because none of the candidates are worth rallying around? Olmert is seen as an insider, and Bibi and the rest of the appleseed gang aren't energizing the electorate either. Or are Israelis simply sitting back because they know that it doesn't matter who leads Israel when Israel's enemies are being led by the likes of Hamas, so that the government is going to continue down the path they've chosen regardless of who takes office? Caroline Glick thinks Kadima's problems rest not in the fact that they lack any governing ideology other than what Sharon represented, but in their competency.

Israellycool.com is liveblogging the elections, with running updates. Meryl Yourish will check in as well.

Meanwhile, Hamas has approved its cabinet 71-36. And Islamic Jihad took credit for killing two Bedouin with a Kassam rocket.

Fixed a factual mistake above.

Here come the exit polls, which are notoriously inaccurate so take with a grain of Dead Sea salt:
Exit polls broadcast by Israeli media after voting ended gave Kadima 29-32 seats in the 120-member parliament, putting it in a good position to form a governing coalition.

The polls forecast center-left Labor would receive 20-22 seats, the far-right Yisrael Beitenu party 13-14 and, in a sharp setback for former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his right-wing Likud was projected to get only about 12 seats.
The big surprise may be the Gil pensioners party, which may have won 6-8 seats.

MSNBC gets the award for clueless headline of the day. The front page headline reads at 4:28PM EST: Israel Divided. Centrist party projected to win, but must form coalition government. Earth to MSNBC. Israel has never had a single government that was formed without a coalition. Every Israeli government since its creation in 1948 has been a coalition government. Every single one. Anyone bother to fact check the headline at MSNBC? Doubt it.

So, the initial review of the polling indicates that Kadima won between 29-32 seats, Labor won 20-22, Yisrael Beiteinu (which is a Russian immigrant dominated party) won 12-14 seats, Likud dropped to fourth place with 11-12 seats, and the Gil Pensioners party won 6-8 seats. That's a huge defeat for Likud and especially Benjamin Netenyahu, whose personal vanity probably sunk Likud's chances when his power struggle with Sharon led Sharon to form Kadima.

To form the government, a political party must get 61 seats. No Israeli political party has ever gotten enough seats on its own and Kadima, like all its predecessors, must form a coalition govenrment. Kadima will likely join up with Yisrael Beiteinu and Labor, along with some of the smaller parties, although it depends on what those parties demand of Kadima in return for forming the government. It's also worth noting that Shimon Peres is a member of Kadima, and his ties with Labor run deep. That may further affect how things shake out.

Initial reactions to the polling outcomes are coming in. For a roundup, check out Memeorandum, Kesher Talk, Decision 08, The Politburo Diktat, and Little Green Footballs.

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