2019 Knesset elections

New Right, just shy of electoral threshold, pins hopes on soldiers’ votes

With some 200,000 ballots yet to be tallied, Naftali Bennett’s party is just some 4,300 votes short; Arab party Ra’am-Balad appears to squeak in

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

Several parties were eagerly awaiting the tally of the soldiers’, diplomats’ and prisoners’ votes Wednesday, as a count of some 97 percent of the votes in Tuesday’s elections revealed they were very close to the 3.25-percent electoral threshold.

The number of votes cast by IDF soldiers, police officers, diplomats and their families, prisoners and hospital patients and staff is normally around 200,000. Those votes have usually led to relatively minor changes in the distribution of Knesset seats, but could potentially have a more fateful role this time.

The final vote including those last ballots is expected early Thursday morning.

In a shock development, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s New Right party appeared to fail to enter the Knesset, garnering 3.14% of the vote, just some 4,300 votes under the electoral threshold. The final votes, the party was hoping, might lift it above the threshold — from no seats to four seats.

The tally of the last batch of votes could theoretically imperil Arab party Ra’am-Balad, which has 3.45%, or 8,400 votes over the threshold, and isn’t likely to garner many of the soldiers’ and diplomats’ votes.

Mtanes Shihadeh (center), Ra’am-Balad’s number two candidate, and Abbas Mansour (right), the party’s number one candidate, at a press conference on March 28, 2019. (Courtesy of Ra’am-Balad)

Other parties projected to be not much further ahead were Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu (3.56%, 12,300 over the threshold), Meretz (3.64%, 15,700 votes over the threshold) and the Union of Right-Wing Parties (3.66%, 16,700 votes over the threshold).

Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut, which had surged in surveys in recent weeks, polling as high as seven seats, only drew the support of 2.53% of voters, some 30,000 votes short of the mark. While the far-right, pro-pot quasi-libertarian party enjoys high popularity among soldiers, their votes seem unlikely to close the gap and carry it into the next parliament.

New Right officials said Wednesday morning they still held out hope that the party could muster enough votes to pass the threshold.

A party official told The Times of Israel that its senior echelons were “confident” that the votes from soldiers would give it “more than enough” to secure a place in parliament and get four seats.

They said that once that happens, they believed they would get a further boost from the party’s vote sharing agreement with Yisrael Beytenu to possibly even get five seats.

Bennett himself said in a statement to reporters Wednesday morning: “All my life I gave everything I could for this good nation. I’ve always been a soldier of the state — in [elite IDF unit] Sayeret Matkal, as a high-tech entrepreneur, as education minister and in the security cabinet during Operation Protective Edge [in Gaza in 2014].

“Now, the soldiers will decide where I will continue to fight for them.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacts after addressing supporters at his Likud party election headquarters in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on election night early on April 10, 2019. (Thomas COEX / AFP)

With more than four million votes counted as of 8 a.m. Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was poised to clinch a clear electoral victory with his Likud party tied with rival Blue and White, but the right-wing bloc with a handy lead and Netanyahu possessing a clear path to forming a governing coalition.

Likud snagged 26.27% of the vote, or 35 seats in the 120-seat legislature — the party’s best result since the 2003 election (when it won 38 seats under Ariel Sharon), and its best under Netanyahu.

Meanwhile Likud’s main rival in the election, the Blue and White party, led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, won 25.94% of the vote, which would also give it 35 seats.

With five right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties managing to get some 30 seats together, Netanyahu seemed set to be able to form a government similar to his current right-wing coalition, with a solid 65 seats.

On the other side of the fence, four left-wing and Arab parties combined for just 20 seats, seemingly putting them in the opposition with Blue and White, pending coalition jostling.

Election officials said turnout was 67.8%, down from 2015’s turnout of 71.8%.

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