Parties put out coalition feelers after Israeli poll (Roundup)

February 12th, 2009 - 1:02 am ICT by IANS  

Tel Aviv, Feb 11 (DPA) The two largest parties to emerge from Israel’s inconclusive elections Tuesday were quick to put out coalition feelers Wednesday, meeting with potential partners in a bid to gain their support and put together a government as quickly as possible.
Both the centrist Kadima party of Tzipi Livni and the hardline Likud of Benjamin Netanyahu claimed victory in the elections, after all but final results - 99 percent of the votes - released Wednesday morning gave the former a one-seat lead over the latter, 28 to 27.

The remaining one percent of the ballots, those of Israeli soldiers, sailors and diplomats abroad, are due to be counted Thursday and could further narrow the gap, and possibly even put the final election result in a dead heat.

Under Israeli law, President Shimon Peres nominates a legislator to form a new government after consulting with party leaders as to who has the best chance of success.

The results Wednesday showed the right-wing block, headed by the Likud, gaining a majority of mandates in the 120-seat Knesset, boosting Netanyahu’s chances, rather than those of Livni, of getting the presidential nod to form a new government.

Livni however met early Wednesday afternoon with Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, without whose 15 seats she - and Netanyahu - would have difficulty in forming a coalition.

Lieberman, said already Tuesday night that he preferred a nationalist, right-wing coalition.

Reports from the parley said Livni told Lieberman, whose party is now the third largest in parliament, that the election results meant “an opportunity for unity in which we can advance issues that are also important to you”.

The two agreed to meet again.

Netanyahu, for his part, met with the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which won 11 mandates in the election and is also seen as a key player in any attempt to form a government.

Shas already declared it would support Netanyahu as the next premier.

A third potential coalition partner, the centre-left Labour Party, appeared Wednesday to be heading for the opposition, after scoring its lowest-ever election result - just 13 mandates.

Party leader Ehud Barak said the results necessitated a period out of government for Labour in order for the party to rebuild itself.

With the election results inconclusive and both leading parties claiming the right to form the next government, the most likely outcome, according to political pundits Wednesday, was a national unity government with Kadima and Likud as its spine.

Netanyahu, before the election, had said he would work to set up such a government, and Livni, in her victory speech Tuesday night, called on the Likud leader to serve under her in a wall- to-wall coalition.

Senior Kadima officials, who admitted Wednesday that their initial victory celebrations came “too early”, repeated the call, adding that the government should have a a rotating premiership.

But a senior Likud legislator, Silvan Shalom, rejected the rotation offer and said it was “clear” Netanyahu should be the next premier. However, he added it was possible to find “common ground” for a unity government headed by the hawkish former premier.

Senior Kadima figure Meir Sheetrit also rejected a rotation agreement as not practical. Speaking on Israel Radio, he insisted any new government should be led by Livni.

No other party received more than five mandates in the election.

The pro-settler National Union, the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, the mixed Jewish-Arab Hadash and the United Arab List faction each obtained four, while the religious-nationalist Jewish Home, the Arab Balad faction and the left-liberal Meretz each obtained three seats.

Twenty-five party lists did not make it past the two-percent threshold needed to enter parliament under Israel’s proportional representation system. According to the official results published by the Central Election Commission Wednesday, some 3.2 million of the around five million eligible Israelis voted, or 65.2 percent.

Of those, Kadima received more than 715,000 votes (22.5 percent), against some 680,000 for the Likud (21.4 percent).

Lieberman received 11.6 percent of the vote, more than in previous election, but less than some pre-election polls had forecast.

Labour, which in earlier political incarnations was Israel’s natural party of government for the country’s first 30 years, won only 9.9 percent of the vote.

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