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Israeli Election Still Up For Grabs

Israelis Known for Switching Parties
Less than three weeks before the Israeli election, almost one-quarter of voters say they have not decided who to vote for, and a similar number could still change their minds based on past experience. Israel’s small population of just over eight million citizens, and the political system of proportional representation mean that anything could still happen in the election.
At the same time, Israeli political analysts say that it will be easier for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to form a governing coalition of 61 seats out of 120 than it will be for challenger Yitzhak Herzog to reach that magic number. 
“Herzog’s chances right now are between 10 and 20 percent,” Abraham Diskin, a professor of political science emeritus at Hebrew University told The Media Line. “If we look at all of the right-wing and center parties, it still looks like it’s easier for Netanyahu to put together a coalition.”
Israel is a parliamentary democracy meaning voters choose a party, rather than a candidate. The party with the largest number of votes is given the first chance to form a government, although they occasionally don’t’ succeed. In 2009 Tzippi Livni, then head of the Kadima party, was unable to put together a ruling coalition and Likud Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was sworn in.
Netanyahu, who served once before as Prime Minister in the 1990’s, is currently campaigning for his third consecutive term. If he wins, he will surpass Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, as the longest serving Israeli leader. Netanyahu initiated the coalition crisis that led to these elections after just two years of the current government.
Israeli voters’ traditional indecision means that events close to the election could swing the poll. A large terrorist attack could lead to a Netanyahu win, as he is seen as being the man most competent to handle Israel’s security needs. New allegations of government corruption, however, could swing voters the other way, as Herzog is seen as stronger on social and economic issues.
A new report on Israel’s housing crisis could also work against Netanyahu. The state comptroller this week issued a harsh report accusing both Netanyahu and his predecessor Ehud Olmert of not building enough new apartments, which led prices to go up 55 percent between 2008 and 2013, pricing many young couples out of the market.
Even more damage could be done if Israel’s Attorney General decides to open a criminal investigation into Netanyahu’s alleged use of state funds for private needs like domestic help. The police have said there is enough evidence to open a probe, and passed the decision on to the Attorney General.
Israelis are fickle in their political choices, say analysts.
“More people change their votes in Israel than anywhere else,” Gideon Rahat, also of Hebrew University told The Media Line. “People have less party loyalty than in the past and we have several parties that are more of less similar.”
He said that 40 percent of Israelis in the last election voted for a different party than in the previous election. There are also new popular centrist parties in each election. In 2013, new party Yesh Atid headed by popular TV presenter Yair Lapid won 19 seats, and became Israeli’s third largest party. However, many Israelis say they are disappointed with Lapid’s performance and his support is expected to go down by at least half.
This time the new popular party is Kulanu, headed by Moshe Kahlon, who broke away from Netanyahu’s Likud party. Kahlon is famous in Israel for breaking the monopoly of the cellphone carriers in Israel, causing prices to come down by more than half. While his political ideas tend to be center-right he could join either Netanyahu or Herzog to form a governing coalition.