Israeli election ends in dramatic deadlock

Updated 23 January 2013
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Israeli election ends in dramatic deadlock

JERUSALEM: Israel’s parliamentary election ended Wednesday in a stunning deadlock between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line bloc and center-left rivals, forcing the badly weakened leader to scramble to cobble together a coalition of parties from both camps, despite dramatically different views on Mideast peacemaking and other polarizing issues.
Israeli media said that with 99.8 percent of votes counted, each bloc had 60 of parliament’s 120 seats. Commentators said Netanyahu, who called early elections three months ago expecting easy victory, would be tapped to form the next government because the rival camp drew 12 of its 60 seats from Arab parties who traditionally neither are asked nor seek to join governing coalitions.
A startlingly strong showing by a political newcomer, the centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, turned pre-election forecasts on their heads and dealt Netanyahu his surprise setback in Tuesday’s vote. Yesh Atid’s leader, Yair Lapid, has said he would only join a government committed to sweeping economic changes and a serious push to resume peace talks with the Palestinians, which have languished throughout Netanyahu’s four-year tenure.
The results were not official, and there was a slim chance of a slight shift in the final bloc breakdowns.
Addressing his supporters early Wednesday, when an earlier vote count still gave his bloc a one-seat parliamentary margin, Netanyahu vowed to form as broad a coalition as possible. He said the next government would be built on principles that include reforming the contentious system of granting draft exemptions to ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and the “responsible” pursuit of a “genuine peace” with the Palestinians. He did not elaborate, but the message seemed aimed at Lapid.
Netanyahu called Lapid early Wednesday and offered to work together. “We have the opportunity to do great things together,” Likud quoted the prime minister as saying.
The prime minister’s goal of a broader coalition will not be an easy one, and will force him to make some difficult decisions. In an interview last week with The Associated Press, Lapid said he would not be a “fig leaf” for a hard-line agenda on peacemaking. A leading party member, Yaakov Peri, said Yesh Atid it would not join unless the government pledges to begin drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the military, lowers the country’s high cost of living and returns to peace talks.
“We have red lines. We won’t cross those red lines, even if it will cost us sitting in the opposition,” Peri told Channel 2 TV.
That stance could force Netanyahu to make overtures — perhaps far more sweeping than he imagined — to get negotiations moving again.
Conversely, a coalition joining parties with dramatically divergent views on peacemaking, the economy and the military draft could easily be headed for gridlock — and perhaps a short life — at a time when Israel faces mounting international isolation, growing economic problems, and regional turbulence.
The vote tally gave Netanyahu’s Likud-Yisrael Beitenu alliance 31 parliamentary seats, 11 fewer than the 42 it held in the outgoing parliament and below the forecasts of recent polls. Yesh Atid had been forecast to capture about a dozen seats but won 19.
Under Israeli law, the party with the best chance of putting together a coalition is given six weeks to do so, and Netanyahu is expected to be handed the task. In the event he fails to form a government, another party — presumably Lapid’s — would be asked to try.


Trio of favorites to vie for Iraq’s premiership

Updated 22 April 2018
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Trio of favorites to vie for Iraq’s premiership

  • Haddad said: “Abadi remains the single strongest contender but not strong enough to win anything close to a majority.”
  • The paramilitary chief ditched his civilian clothes in favor of military fatigues in 2014, to rally efforts against an ascendant Daesh.
BAGHDAD: An incumbent prime minister, his ousted predecessor and a paramilitary chief instrumental in defeating the Daesh group are the three favorites vying for Iraq’s premiership.
Since Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled in the US-led invasion of 2003, the constitution has vested key powers in the prime minister, a post reserved for the majority Shiite population.
Under a system of checks and balances designed to avoid a return to dictatorship, the winner of the May 12 parliamentary elections will have to form alliances with other Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish lists to secure a majority. Two of the favorites topping the lists were among the architects of victory against Daesh, which in 2014 seized a third of Iraq’s territory in a lightning offensive.
Security crisis
The incumbent prime minister, 66 year-old Haider Abadi, took over the reins from Nuri Al-Maliki in September 2014 at the high watermark of the security crisis.
The fightback which allowed Abadi to declare Iraq’s victory over the jihadists in December, has silenced critics of his lack of military experience.
An engineering graduate and holder of a doctorate from the University of Manchester in Britain, Abadi is from the same Dawa party as his predecessor Maliki.
He owes his position to the support of the Marjaiya, the supreme council of Iraq’s Shiite clerics, and to an international consensus.
“He is acceptable to all foreign stakeholders, from the Iranians, to the Americans (and) the Saudis,” said Fanar Haddad, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute.
As the official head of Iraq’s military, Abadi has bolstered morale by drafting in foreign trainers, who have helped professionalize tens of thousands of soldiers.
Under his watch and backed by a US-led international coalition, the army has banished Daesh from all its urban strongholds in Iraq, leaving jihadists largely confined to areas close to the Syrian border.
The Iraqi military has also pushed back the Kurds in the north’s oil-rich Kirkuk province, bolstering Abadi’s status as frontrunner going into the election.
“He has a popular base which transcends confessional and ethnic lines. He offers a narrative as a statesman and he is not tarnished by corruption,” said Iraqi political scientist Essam Al-Fili.
Haddad said: “Abadi remains the single strongest contender but not strong enough to win anything close to a majority.”
His main contender is Hadi Al-Ameri — a leader of Hashed Al-Shaabi, a paramilitary network that played a pivotal role in defeating IS.
Ameri comes from Diyala province and is a statistics graduate from Baghdad University. He fled to Iran in 1980 after Saddam executed top Shiite cleric Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr Al-Sadr.
The 64-year old is widely viewed as Tehran’s favored candidate.
He fought alongside Iranian forces in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980 to 1988 as part of the Badr organization, and he only returned from exile after Saddam’s ouster. During Maliki’s 2010-2014 term as premier, Ameri was a lawmaker and then transport minister, but he was blocked in a bid to head the Interior Ministry by an American veto.
The paramilitary chief ditched his civilian clothes in favor of military fatigues in 2014, to rally efforts against an ascendant Daesh. At the battlefront, he operated alongside his old friend Qassem Soleimani, who runs the foreign operations wing of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
“I think Ameri will have a strong hand in the post-ballot negotiations but that government formation is likely to remain with Dawa and in all likelihood with Abadi,” said Haddad.
Rebuilding Basra
Beyond Ameri’s military credentials, his appeal has been bolstered by Hashed putting its bulldozers to work in rebuilding Basra and the capital’s Sadr City district, exposing the state’s deficiencies.
“With Dawa divided, I think Ameri sees himself as the joker in the pack, as a prime minister who can rebuild the civil state with the same success that he led the military,” said Fili.
The third candidate, 68-year-old Maliki, has been chomping at the bit since he was forced out in 2014, after serving eight years as prime minister.
While still a prominent Dawa leader, he was accused of marginalizing Sunnis and promoting corruption during his tenure.
“He is trying to focus his efforts on areas where the Dawa party is strong and is attempting to get closer to Shiite armed groups to stay in the spotlight,” said Fili.
For Haddad, the former premier’s chances are modest.
“Maliki’s fortunes have taken an irreversible hit. His second term is not remembered well by Iraqis in general.”
“The upper limit of his prospects might be to play second fiddle to Ameri,” Haddad said.