Nineteenth Knesset Elections Are Held

January 22, 2013

Following the October 2012 dissolution of the Knesset because of an impasse over the state budget, early elections were scheduled for January 22, 2013. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believed that holding early elections at a time when he enjoyed high approval ratings in most opinion polls would lead to an easy victory for Likud and his policies.  The Prime Minister also supported early elections in order to reaffirm Israeli public support  for a new government’s mandate to challenge the Iranian nuclear threat.

The election, however, would not follow the script that most observers believed  when they were announced in October.  Two unexpected events unfolded which led to a decrease in Likud’s Knesset strength. First, Likud aligned itself with the more right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party headed by the Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.  The two parties presented a single list to voters in the election which alienated some of Likud’s more religious supporters and some of Yisrael Beiteinu’s Russian immigrant base.  Second, a new center-left party Yesh Atid led by former journalist Yair Lapid emerged with an agenda focusing on social and economic issues that appealed to younger voters. The Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu dropped its combined Knesset representation from 42 seats to 31 seats.

The result, while still a victory for Netanyahu (shown in the photo thanking his supporters, photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills), was a definitive decline in seats for right-wing parties including ultra-Orthodox parties, and a surprise rise for Lapid’s Yesh Atid party which garnered  19 seats.  Netanyahu struggled to form a coalition, needing eight weeks to do so before forming the 33rd government in March.

Voter turnout for the Knesset election was 67.8% better than the previous two Israeli elections, but far below the norms of near 80% in the 1999 election..  The election resulted in 54 new MK’s (48 of whom were elected for the first time, including all 19 members of Yesh Atid).  A record number of  27 women were elected.  Despite the fact that the ultra-Orthodox parties were not included in the government, nearly one third of the MK’s elected were religious.