Ending push for recount, Bennett and Shaked concede election loss

Ending push for recount, Bennett and Shaked concede election loss

New Right leaders take responsibility for party’s failure in race, after it falls some 1,400 votes short of entering the Knesset

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (R), Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (L), hold a press conference of the New Right party, in Tel Aviv on March 17, 2019. (Flash90)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett (R), Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (L), hold a press conference of the New Right party, in Tel Aviv on March 17, 2019. (Flash90)

The New Right’s Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked on Tuesday conceded their loss in the national election, hours after the Central Elections Committee confirmed that the right-wing party had failed to win enough votes to enter the Knesset.

In a Facebook message, Bennett indicated he was halting a series of pushes for a recount, after his party fell some 1,400 votes short of entering the Knesset in a shock disappointment.

“After six years of service as a minister, 100 days of campaigning, and another week of fighting for every vote, I can say: I did the best I could,” Bennett said in a Facebook post.

“I have no claims against anyone. I, and I alone, am responsible for the outcome,” he added.

Co-chair Shaked, in a separate Facebook post later on Tuesday night, said: “We accept the will of the voters and are moving on.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Bennett and Shaked’s New Right party had berated the CEC for publishing final election results that left the right-wing party out of the next Knesset, saying the authority’s statement on Tuesday was “rushed,” while alleging serious election fraud.

But by Tuesday evening, the education minister yielded.

“We did find irregularities at the polls and beyond that, but that, in of itself, is not enough to cancel the election results. Our legal counsel will examine the findings in the next two weeks, but at this stage, we are moving on,” he wrote.

In the post, he described Shaked as “the best justice minister in the history of Israel.”

“Together, during the past six years, we took the wheel and pulled it rightward and we managed to change, for the better, the direction of the State of Israel. The ship will continue to sail without us,” he wrote.

In her own farewell post, in which she thanked Bennett and her supporters, Shaked said she was “optimistic” about Israel’s future and also took credit for pushing the country further to the right.

Naftali Bennett arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. December 2, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL via Flash90)

Despite predictions that the party would have a major role in the next government, New Right had one of the most disappointing performances of the 2019 election, narrowly failing to cross the 3.25% electoral threshold.

The two popular pro-settler ministers split from their religious-nationalist Jewish Home party and sought to appeal to new secular voters, but the maneuver backfired, leaving them out of the Knesset.

Bennett entered the Knesset in 2013 and served as minister of education, diaspora affairs, economy, and religious affairs. Shaked, who joined the Jewish Home with Bennett in 2012, became justice minister in 2015.

The CEC published its final tally on Tuesday, which will be presented to President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday.

Earlier, as the results were confirmed, the New Right had alleged “grave election fraud” at polling stations, in comments that drew a reprimand from the election authority.

“There were discrepancies found in 8 percent of the ballot boxes, including unequivocal evidence of grave election fraud,” the New Right party had charged. “Unfortunately, we asked the committee to wait with the press release until the probe is over, but the urgency to publish was more important than sticking to the facts.”

The CEC dismissed the allegation, and slammed the party for undermining public faith in the electoral process. “The New Right’s media statements are baseless and are made out of understandable distress,” the committee said in a statement. “The claims are unfounded and are undermining public trust in the election results, as well as being inconsistent.”

In recent days, several parties, including the New Right and United Torah Judaism, complained to the committee over what they believed were mishandled ballot boxes or other problems at one or more of the country’s 10,000-plus polling stations on Election Day.

The CEC said it had examined claims of irregularities and counting errors by the New Right, and looked into the count at dozens of polling stations cited by Bennett.

The committee said its teams had worked throughout Monday and through the night to examine the claims and found no substantial errors. In fact, it said it had found that the party had been mistakenly awarded three votes too many.

Former justice minister and co-chairwoman of the New Right party, Ayelet Shaked walks outside the Central Elections Committee offices at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, April 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Channel 13 reported earlier this week that Bennett personally led a team of over 100 volunteers in search of the allegedly missing ballots at a storage warehouse in the central city of Shoham on Sunday. Later, the committee released a statement saying that other than one uncounted ballot, Bennett and his team did not find any “missing” votes for the New Right.

The CEC on Tuesday also said the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party had received an additional Knesset seat at the expense of Likud, in the final election results. UTJ now has eight seats, while Likud fell down to 35 — the same number as the rival Blue and White party.

As representatives of the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties endorsed Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister, the president said his choice was now “all but certain” and he is expected to entrust the task of forming a government to Netanyahu, who is likely to be able to build a coalition of up to 65 seats, comprising Likud (35 seats), the ultra-Orthodox Shas (8), United Torah Judaism (8), Union of Right-Wing Parties (5), Kulanu (4), and Yisrael Beytenu (5).

Netanyahu secured majority backing of 65 of the 120 Knesset members earlier on Tuesday.

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