Labor joins Meretz in saying it will back Lapid as next prime minister

Gantz says he’ll support anyone able to prove they have enough support to form coalition without Netanyahu; despite polling in single digits, Sa’ar claims he still can be PM

Yesh Atid chair Yair Lapid, left, speaking with Labor MK Merav Michaeli during a plenum session in the Knesset on June 5, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Yesh Atid chair Yair Lapid, left, speaking with Labor MK Merav Michaeli during a plenum session in the Knesset on June 5, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A Labor party candidate in next week’s Knesset election said Tuesday that the center-left party would recommend Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid to be tasked with forming the next government, following a similar announcement by the more left-wing Meretz faction.

Lapid’s centrist slate is polling higher than any other within the bloc opposing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We will recommend Yair Lapid… we think he can lead a coalition,” Nachman Shai, a former MK and the No. 8 candidate on Labor’s electoral slate, told Army Radio. “For us, [Lapid] is the head of the bloc.”

On Monday, Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz became the first party leader to openly declare that he would recommend Lapid as premier.

“I see him as the head of the largest party in our bloc with the best chance form a government. We will be part of the government with him [at the helm],” Horowitz told the Ynet news site.

Asked if Meretz would quit the race, as polls have the left-wing party consistently hovering near the electoral threshold, he asserted that it would not. “A strategic vote is to vote for Meretz in order to prevent Netanyahu” from forming a narrow right-wing government,” Horowitz added.

After the elections, the head of each party that makes it into the 120-member Knesset is invited by the president to recommend their preferred choice of prime minister. The president then makes a selection, based on these recommendations, of who is best-placed to form and lead a governing coalition, normally a candidate recommended by at least 61 lawmakers.

Head of the left wing Meretz party Nitzan Horowitz attends a Channel 12 News conference in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The public declaration appears to be part of a strategy to stop voters from shifting their support to Yesh Atid, as is often the case in election home stretches where many prefer to back the largest party in their preferred bloc.

Lapid still faces an uphill battle, polling at roughly 20 seats compared to Likud’s nearly 30. Even if the anti-Netanyahu bloc wins a majority of seats, the Yesh Atid chairman will face a difficult time convincing parties as left-wing as Meretz and as right-wing as Naftali Bennett’s Yamina to sit in the same coalition.

After refraining from saying so outright last week, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz told Channel 12 news on Monday that he was in fact prepared to back Lapid as prime minister. However, he qualified the statement, saying he would back any candidate who was able to prove after the election that he has enough support to form a coalition that will replace Netanyahu — be it Lapid, Yamina chair Naftali Bennett or New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar.

Sa’ar has dropped to fourth place in recent polls, which see him receiving as few as nine seats. Nonetheless, he told Channel 12 on Tuesday that he still sees himself as a candidate for prime minister and that he will form the next government if the pro-Netanyahu bloc does not receive a majority of at least 61 seats in the March 23 vote.

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