Poll: Likud is top party despite PM probes, but could struggle to form coalition

TV survey says longtime kingmaker Shas would fail to clear vote threshold, while centrist Yesh Atid would finish 2nd with 20 seats

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara and Likud lawmakers attend a rally in support of the premier in Tel Aviv on August 9, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara and Likud lawmakers attend a rally in support of the premier in Tel Aviv on August 9, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A poll published Saturday indicated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party would finish first in fresh elections despite the corruption investigations involving the premier, while the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, a longtime kingmaker in Israeli politics, would be bounced out of the Knesset.

According to the Channel 10 survey, Likud would be the largest party with 26 seats, down from the 30 it has in the current Knesset. If the survey results were replicated in an election, Likud might have a harder time forming a coalition than in the recent past, however.

Despite Netanyahu being directly investigated in two corruption probes and a host of his close associates involved in another probe looking into the allegedly illicit purchase of naval vessels from Germany, the poll suggested the largest number of Israelis would still prefer the Likud run the country.

The major surprise of the survey surrounded the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which was forecast to only win enough votes for three seats and thus fail to make it to the Knesset given the current threshold. (A party needs 3.25% of the national vote to enter the 120-member Knesset. Ironically, Shas leader Aryeh Deri last week furiously opposed the idea, reportedly flouted by Netanyhau, of reducing the threshold.)

InteriorMinister Aryeh Deri attends a memoral ceremony for Shas founder Ovadia Yosef in Jerusalem on October 22, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While Shas was once a key coalition partner for both right-wing and left-wing governments and won as many as 17 seats in the 1999 elections, it has been plagued by infighting since party founder and former chief Sephardi rabbi Ovadia Yosef died in 2013.

It is also dealing with a corruption investigation into Interior Minister Deri. Deri was questioned by police in September for a fifth time. He is suspected of diverting hundreds of thousands of shekels in state funds to NGOs run by members of his immediate family, as well as suspected tax fraud linked to the sale of apartments to his brother.

His wife, Yaffa Deri, has also been questioned police over suspicions she used money donated to her nonprofit organizations to purchase real estate.

Deri, who served 22 months in prison from 2000 to 2002 for accepting bribes during a previous stint as interior minister in the 1990s, has denied any wrongdoing by him or his wife.

Saturday’s poll also had the far-right Yachad party, which is headed by former Shas leader Eli Yishai, winning only two seats and thus also failing to clear the minimum threshold.

The absence of those two parties would undermine Likud efforts to assemble a coalition.

Likud was followed in the survey by Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid, which would finish second behind Likud with 21 seats.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid attends a party conference in Tel Aviv, on October 16, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Zionist Union alliance, headed by new Labor leader Avi Gabbay, would win 20 seats, according to the Channel 10 poll, down from its current tally of 24 seats in the Knesset.

Gabbay has recently been trying to move the party into the center, apparently without any immediate impact.

Following the Zionist Union was the Joint (Arab) List,  with 12 seats, one less than it currently has.

The right-wing Jewish Home party, which has eight seats, would win 10 while the opposition left-wing Meretz party would win seven, up from the five seats it now holds.

Following Meretz was Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, which would drop from 10 seats to seven. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party would add one to finish with six.

The ultra-Othodox United Torah Judaism, the final party that the poll had clearing the minimum voting threshold of 3.25 percent, would also win six seats.

Seventeen percent of respondents, meanwhile, said they had not yet decided or did not know who to vote for, while eight percent said they would not vote.

If the survey results were to prove accurate in the next elections, the Likud and its natural allies would have a harder time than in the recent past forming a coalition, since Likud, Jewish Home, Kulanu, Yisrael Beytenu and UTJ would muster only 55 of the 120 Knesset seats between them, while Yesh Atid, Zionist Union, the Arab list and Meretz could muster a blocking 60 seats.

Asked who was their preferred prime minister, 28% said Netanyahu, 11% said Lapid, 11% said Gabbay, 6% said ex-Labor prime minister Ehud Barak, and 5% said Naftali Bennett.

The survey was made up of 619 respondents, among them 508 Jews and 111 Arabs. No margin of error was provided.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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