What happens if coalition talks fail? - explainer

In case Netanyahu is unable to form a coalition, it will be the third time in Israel’s history that the MK entrusted with the responsibility of forming a government did not succeed in doing so.

May 28, 2019 14:25
3 minute read.
Benjamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a coalition meeting. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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It is still too early to foresee whether the efforts to build a right-wing coalition will indeed fail, but in case that will be the situation here are some thoughts:

Failure to form a coalition

In case Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is unable to form a coalition by Wednesday’s deadline, it will be the third time in Israel’s history that the Member of Knesset entrusted with the responsibility of forming a government did not succeed in doing so.

The first time was in 1990 when Shimon Peres thought he had successfully formed a coalition - but at the last minute a few votes “disappeared” (what came to be known as the “dirty trick”). In the second case, in 2008 –  Tzippi Livni was unable to form a coalition – when she replaced Ehud Olmert as the head of the Kadima party, after he resigned in 2008. Livni had to rebuild the coalition, failed to do so.  In the first case, the President appointed Yitzhak Shamir (head of the Likud) to form a government (which he indeed succeeded in doing), and in the second case the Knesset decided to advance the elections.

It should be emphasized, however, that in both cases, it was not a matter of establishing a new government immediately after elections. If Netanyahu fails, it will be a precedent in this respect.

An election

If elections are advanced – they will not be considered a “rerun” of the previous April 2019 elections – these will be new elections, perhaps even with new parties and new candidates. The term "rerun elections" is sometimes used in the case of ballot fraud. But in the current case, we are talking about early elections (very early... but still) because of the political deadlock.
Of course this is not desirable. Such a move has budgetary implications (the cost of two elections within a few months of each other), and the state – which has been kind of "on hold" since the Knesset was dissolved in December 2018 –  will continue to be in such a mode for a few more months.

That being said, this is not “the end of the world”. In several democracies, back-to-back elections were held when the political system found itself  at a dead end:

• Britain: In 1974, two elections were held (February and October)

• Ireland: In 1982, two elections were held (February and November)

• Greece: In 1989, two elections were held (June and November)

• Greece: In 2012, two elections were held (May and June)

• Spain: Elections in December 2015 and another election in June 2016

A minority government

In principle, Netanyahu does not need a majority of 61 to form a government. All he needs is a situation in which more hands vote in favor the government than oppose it. For example, if 60 are in favor, 55 against and five from Yisrael Beytenu will abstain, the government may take office.

But it is clear that such a government would be very shaky.  The coalition would not have a majority, and would have to constantly bargain for the support of other factions in order to pass laws and other decisions.

However, minority governments are quite common in democracies such as Canada, Denmark, Sweden and Spain. Today (May 25, 2019) minority governments are serving in Ireland, United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway, Spain and Sweden.

In Israel, minority governments are rare. The few cases of minority governments took place after a faction/s withdrew from the coalition. For example, the Rabin government after the withdrawal of Shas, or the Barak government after the withdrawal of Meretz, the National Religious Party and Shas. However, no minority government has ever been formed following elections.
In sum, minority government or early elections are two of the possibilities, both will throw the political system into unstable situation and extend the long period of “government on hold."

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