Eve of Israel's Election Day |

Newcomers to Knesset Have High Hopes, but History Is Not Always on Their Side

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Yesh Atid is on the verge of accomplishing something rarely done – passing the voter threshold as a party devoid of serving Knesset members.

Only once in the previous four national elections has such a party managed to get into the Knesset – the Gil pensioners’ party in the election for the 17th Knesset in 2006. The party headed by Rafi Eitan, the former intelligence chief, received over 185,000 votes, garnering seven seats, and shocked the pollsters. The party entered the governing coalition and received two ministerial portfolios and the chair of the Knesset Labor and Welfare Committee.

But this outstanding success ended in bitter disappointment. The Gil faction became embroiled in infighting, split and soon found itself outside the Knesset. Only 17,000 people voted for the party for the 18th Knesset, about 0.5 percent of the voter turnout.

Other new parties have made it in but with serving Knesset members on their list, such as Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu, which landed four seats in 1999 with former Yisrael b'Aliyah member Michael Nudelman on its list.

Not that this is discouraging all those who dream of a seat in the next Knesset. New and veteran parties with no Kneseet representation are continuing to try, and are convinced that this time they have a chance of passing the voter threshold, which stands at two percent.

Thirty two parties are vying for representation in the 19th Knesset (following the retirement from the race in recent days of the Netzah and Atid Ahad lists). Seventeen of them have no present or past Knesset members on their slates.

Several other parties managed to pass the threshold in one or two of the many opinion polls published in recent weeks, but have not been consistent in doing so.

Contrary to common wisdom, votes for parties who fail to pass the threshold do have significance. These voting slips are included in the overall calculation of how many votes are necessary to pass the 2 percent threshold, making it even more difficult for the other small parties.

Once the bar has been set, those parties who garnered more votes are included in the calculation for dividing them into 120 MKs. The votes that went to the parties that did not pass the threshold are disregarded at this stage. In this way about 104,000 votes (the equivalent of 3.8 Knesset seats) were tossed out in 2009, about 183,000 (7.4 seats) votes in 2006, 132,000 votes (5.2 seats) in 2003, and about 197,000 (7.6 seats) in 1999.

Many votes are destined to be wasted in this way in today’s election. Exactly how many? It is hard to guess. It depends very much on whether the borderline parties succeed in passing the threshold.

According to an adjusted calculation based on the last two opinion polls published by the Dialog polling agency headed by Prof. Camil Fuchs for Haaretz and Channel 10, Kadima is expected to receive 2.6 percent of the votes and pass the threshold. Otzma Leyisrael would get 2.1 percent, just making it in. The other small parties that didn’t pass the threshold in the poll received an additional combined 5.3 percent of the vote.

If Otzma Leyisrael, Kadima, or both of them fail to pass the threshold, and no other small party produces a surprise, some 7-9 percent of the votes will be effectively thrown away – votes that are likely to affect the balance between the political blocs.

If, for example, the votes given to Eretz Chadasha, Aleh Yarok, The Greens and the Da’am Workers Party were rolled over to parties that do pass the threshold (assuming that Kadima succeeds while Otzma Leyisrael fails to get elected), a sufficiently large center-left bloc could be formed to block Benjamin Netanyahu from forming the next government. Meanwhile, Otzma Leyisrael and Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak’s Koah Lehashpia party, which are likely to not pass the threshold, are bleeding votes mainly from the right wing.

Activists from Aleh Yarok, Eretz Chadasha, Koah Lehashpia, The Greens, The Israelis, Da’am, Dor Bonei Haaretz and other parties that disregard the polls still believe they can surprise everyone. But this is not these parties’ only motivation to stay in the race. By law, a party that receives at least 1 percent of the votes yet fails to pass the 2 percent threshold is entitled to financing worth NIS 1.33 million. This sum can help offset costs to candidates using their personal resources, which occasionally reach hundreds of thousands of shekels.

In any case, most of the parties contesting the election for the 19th Knesset will in the end find themselves outside the parliament and will quickly be forgotten. Only a handful of them will probably try again next time; others will fall apart and still others will join larger parties – as the Green Movement, which received about 28,000 votes in the last election, has done with Hatnuah in this election.

What will remain of the small parties in most people’s memories is their campaign broadcasts – astute or entertaining at best, hallucinatory at worst.

Attorney Yadin Elam helped to collate and calculate the voting figures from previous Knesset elections.

Eretz Chadasha cofounders Eldad Yaniv, left, and Rani Blair.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Rafi Eitan, right, signing the 2006 coalition agreement between his Gil pensioners' party and Kadima, with Yoram Turbowitz, head of Kadima's negotiating team.Credit: Alon Ron

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