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Inside Israel


Possible Election Upset Signals Change in the Wind for Israel

January 23rd 2013

Yair Lapid

Yair Lapid the new prime minister? What seemed absurd two days ago is now a remote possibility. There is the chance that Israel's president, Shimon Peres, might turn to the former television journalist to form the next governing coalition. His Yesh Atid party garnered 19 votes in Tuesday's election, making him not only a kingmaker, but perhaps a king himself.

Lapid's stunning success is symbolic of the election at large. From out of nowhere, the center-left candidate drew votes from all sectors of Israeli society. A party that did not even exist two years ago will now play a leading role in forming the next government.

Israelis voted for change, electing a stunning 53 new members to Knesset. While Naftali Bennett and Habayit Hayehudi did not perform as well as some had expected, his party nonetheless increased its representation by 400 percent from the last Knesset. Tzipi Livni's Hatnua party -- also a newly formed party -- won six seats, while Meretz also doubled its mandates from the last Knesset.

In that context, Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, may be the biggest loser of all. Surely, he expected to increase his power through the polls, not lose seats. And yet, Israelis told Netanyahu they wanted more. They want a greater effort in making Israel an affordable place to live and they want more in sharing Israel's national service burden. They perhaps even want more in terms of security and diplomacy. In which direction -- left or right -- is unclear at this juncture.

President Peres will ask a leader of one of the parties to form a coalition next week. Whatever the shape of the coalition, or whomever heads it, Israelis have clearly voted for a change in direction.


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