Kadima’s lead over Likud shrinks to one place, spelling unstable government

Nearly 100 percent of counted votes from Israel’s general election Tuesday, Feb. 10, awards Tzipi Livni’s Kadima 28 Knesset seats (out of 120) – only one place ahead of the 27 polled by Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud. He heads a right-of-center bloc of 64 seats to the 56 polled by the center and left. This means Livni cannot form a government without Likud and defense minister Ehud Barak’s Labor (13), unless her scant win is solidified by the still uncounted military votes.
Avigdor Lieberman’s right-wing Israel Beitenu came in third with 15, pushing Labor, the state’s founding party, down to fourth place. The ultra-religious Shas polled 11 seats, Torah Judaism 5 and New Left Meretz crashed to 3 on a par with Bayit Yehudi, National Union.
The military vote is expected to boost the right-wing Israel Beitenu and Likud. While the former has made a spectacular showing, neither Kadima nor Likud has garnered enough of the vote to promise Israel stable government for a full four-year term with parliamentary support for new policies.
The Arab Israeli parties Raam-Taal polled 5 seats, Hadash (communists) 4 and Balad three.
Livni has invited Likud to join a broad national unity government, while Netanyahu is bidding for a narrow, right-wing government and trying to co-opt Labor and Kadima later.
Lieberman, who holds the balance, says his party will decide which way to go in the coming days. He favors a right-wing national government but rules out a partnership with Shas whose leader vilified his party.
If Livni, 50, does manage to horse-trade her way to forming a coalition government, she will be Israel’s second woman prime minister after Golda Meir.
Foreign minister in the outgoing administration, a lawyer, former justice minister and Mossad staffer, Livni is untested in the two dominant popular concerns, security and the failing economy. An advocate of peace talks, she is generally considered a naive negotiator and over-influenced by foreign colleagues and international opinion. Her campaign was a highly personal one, which kept her unimpressive list of candidates well in the wings.
Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu cut deep into Netanyahu’s right-of-center Likud and the religious parties, in the same way as Livni’s relatively new Kadima sliced chunks off the traditional constituencies of defense minister Ehud Barak’s Labor and the left-wing Meretz.
Netanyahu, 59, lost his early margin as frontrunner by miscalculating the strength of his rivals. Unlike Livni, he refrained from throwing himself into the rough and tumble with the grass-roots voter and relied on the Internet to carry his message. The deal he cut early on with the unpopular Barak boomeranged against Likud.
Netanyahu and Barak are both former prime ministers. Netanyahu known as Bibi, campaigned on a clear ticket: No nuclear arms for Iran, no repartition of Jerusalem, no concession of the Golan and an end to Hamas rule of Gaza.
His term as prime minister from 1996 to 1999 ended with his defeat by Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, a former chief of staff and foreign minister.
As finance minister from 2001-2005 under Ariel Sharon, Netanyahu is credited with turning around the economy, blighted by the Palestinian uprising, and fostering years of dramatic growth.
Lieberman, 50, who was born in Moldova, founded his party with the support of former Russian immigrants but also won strong backing in this campaign from young soldiers across the board with his strong security message and slogan: “Lieberman understands Arabic!” One condition for his joining a government is a commitment to end Hamas rule of the Gaza Strip once and for all and zero tolerance for terrorists.

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