Friday, February 13, 2009

Israeli Election Result, sort of

We now know the result of the general election that was held in Israel on Tuesday, in the sense of knowing how many Knesset (parliamentary) seats will be held by each party. But we don't know the result in the sense of knowing the identity of the next prime minister, and the composition of the inevitable coalition government.

The Kadima Party, which heads the current coalition government, finished first in the balloting, but just barely. Their 28 seat total is only one ahead of that of the second-place party, Likud.

This is a textbook example of something about which I wrote here. The head of state in most parliamentary democracies has mostly ceremonial duties. But in a situation where no one party leader is the obvious choice to head a coalition government, such a head of state, e.g., Israel's President Shimon Peres, is called upon to make a major decision.

The election results could justify Peres's designating the head of either Kadima (Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni) or Likud (former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) to attempt to put together a coalition.

Kadima is the largest party, which is usually the deciding factor. But with Likud being further to the right of the spectrum, they have more natural allies among the smaller parties.

Peres comes from the Labor Party, which is in coalition with Kadima. Elected heads of state in parliamentary democracies typically have a background in one of the parties. But they are expected to act in a non-partisan manner in the head of state role. So any favoritism that Peres might be perceived to show toward Kadima and Livni could stir up controversy.

That non-partisan role is very much in contrast to the American head of state, President Obama, who acts as leader of the Democratic Party.

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