2019 Knesset elections

New Right demands recount after it falls just short of winning Knesset seats

URWP MK joins call as Central Elections Committee official issues final results, committee reviews tally process; New Right sources allege elections being ‘stolen from right wing’

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, left, and Education Minister Nafatli Bennett announce the establishment of the New Right (HaYamin HeHadash) party at a press conference in Tel Aviv on December 29, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, left, and Education Minister Nafatli Bennett announce the establishment of the New Right (HaYamin HeHadash) party at a press conference in Tel Aviv on December 29, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The New Right party on Thursday said it would demand a recount of its votes as it emerged that it had fallen just short of entering the Knesset, after all votes were tallied but with a review of the vote-count process underway.

Overnight and through Thursday morning, the Central Elections Committee counted the final 265,000 ballots from soldiers, diplomats, medical staff and patients in hospitals, prisoners and disabled people (3,940 special stations were accessible to voters with disabilities), representing about six percent of the total number of ballots cast in the election. When the count was done, New Right had fallen just 1,380 votes short of clearing the 3.25% threshold for Knesset representation, officials from the Central Elections Committee said at around 10 a.m. on Thursday.

Representatives of the party argued with officials at the Central Elections Committee headquarters in the Knesset, and sought in vain to be allowed to enter the room where the count was taking place, Army Radio reported.

When regular votes were counted overnight Tuesday-Wednesday, the New Right party of Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked had garnered just 3.14% of the vote, which amounted to some 4,300 votes under the 3.25% electoral threshold. It had then pinned its hopes on the soldiers’ and other extra votes lifting it into the Knesset.

But after the extra votes were counted Thursday, the party crept up to 3.22%, still 0.03% short — or 1,380 votes — of its target that would lift it from zero seats to four seats.

Officials count the remaining ballots from soldiers and absentees at the Knesset in Jerusalem, a day after the general elections, April 10, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Due to a bug in the Central Elections Committee website, the displayed data indicated for several hours (including at this time of writing) that New Right was just above the threshold with 3.26%, but officials said that was a mistake.

The officials said the bug on the site meant that it was not showing accurate numbers for total votes counted, and was thus displaying inaccurate figures for all parties.

Screenshot from the Central Elections Committee website showing the New Right party with 3.26% of the vote on Thursday late morning, April 11, 2019. The Committee said this information was erroneous and that the New Right had actually won only 3.22% of the vote. It said the site was not showing the correct number of total votes counted, and was thus displaying inaccurate figures for all parties.

The Central Elections Committee said late Thursday morning that the tally had ended, but that the results would only be officially released later after a strict review of the process due to the close results.

New Right said it would demand a recount of the ballots, with party sources alleging that “very strange things are happening at the Central Elections Committee, someone is stealing the elections from the right wing.” They said party observers had not been allowed to monitor the process.

“We are optimistic,” Shaked told the Ynet website outside her home. “The reports have been good. We need to wait for the final results.”

Bennett earlier told reporters: “I’m praying to God and fighting for every vote.”

National Union MK Bezalel Smotrich at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on March 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bezalel Smotrich, No. 2 on the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URWP) slate — which Bennett and Shaked left to form New Right — joined the recount demand, saying that “there is a very bad smell here of a purposeful attempt to make right-wing Knesset seats disappear and we shouldn’t let that happen.”

But URWP leader Rafi Peretz signaled a different approach, saying he had “full trust” in the Elections Committee and that the party would “responsibly” await its official announcement.

New Right and URWP are reportedly planning to join forces in determining coalition demands from Netanyahu if the former party crosses the threshold.

The tally of the last batch of votes seemed to indicate that the Arab party Ra’am-Balad was safely over the threshold, though it slipped from 3.45% to 3.38%.

It also led to a minor-looking but significant change in the Knesset makeup, with the left-wing Meretz party going up from four to five seats at the expense of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism, which was bumped down from eight to seven. That extra seat for Meretz was cited by a New Right source as bolstering the claim that something untoward was going on with the count, Israel Radio reported early on Thursday afternoon.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters after polls for elections closed in Tel Aviv, April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

That means Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing and ultra-Orthodox bloc, which seems on track to form the next coalition, is down from 65 seats in the 120-seat Knesset to 64. Hence, every coalition party, even those with just four seats, will now have the ability to topple the government at any point.

However, if New Right does end up clearing the threshold and getting four seats, the Blue and White party led by Benny Gantz would lose two of its current 35 seats and go down to 33, Meretz would go back down to four with United Torah Judaism remaining at seven, and URWP would also lose a seat. In that case, the right-wing bloc would grow to 67 seats and Netanyahu’s coalition would be safer.

Netanyahu clinched a clear electoral victory in Tuesday’s elections, with Likud tied with Blue and White at 35 in terms of Knesset seats, but with the right-wing bloc having a handy lead and Netanyahu seeing a clear path to forming a governing coalition. Blue and White conceded defeat on Wednesday evening.

Likud snagged the party’s best result since the 2003 election (when it won 38 seats under Ariel Sharon), and its best under Netanyahu.

Election turnout was 67.9%, down from 72% in 2015.

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