The last pre-election polls in Israel show that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains the overwhelming favorite to lead the country, but show his party slipping to second place, losing ground to its center-left, Obama-backed rival. Bibi’s Likud Party will gain seats, but the rival Zionist Union–an alliance between Isaac Herzog’s Labor Party and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua Party–could also gain enough to win the Mar. 17 election. Netanyahu says there is a “real danger” he could lose.
Israelis do not vote directly for their prime minister or ceremonial president, but rather for their preferred party. Following an election, it is the president’s role to invite a particular leader to form a government. That leader is usually the head of the party that wins the election, but may also be the head of another party, if that party has a better chance of assembling a stable coalition. Israeli election law prohibits publishing polls in the last week before voters cast their ballots.
The last two projections indicate that the Zionist Union would win 24 or 25 seats (out of 120), while the Likud would win 21. Overall, the parties of the right–those that would form a government under Netanyahu–still hold a sizable lead of 64 or 65 seats to the left’s 55 or 56 seats. However, if the Zionist Union performs as well as is currently expected, the president could insist upon a national unity government, with the Likud and the Zionist Union sharing power under Netanyahu.
Netanyahu’s profile on the world stage is that of a statesman and wartime leader. Historically, he has also been Israel’s most successful financial and economic leader, shaping an economy that has bucked global recession and led the world in innovation. However, he has also presided over an era of rising economic inequality, and his administration–in power for a relatively long period–has been dogged by allegations of petty corruption that will be on voters’ minds heading to the polls.
This post has been updated.