Likud fears vote collapse on Israel election day


With a week and a half to go until the elections, both main parties see major obstacles to achieving victory.

Likud strategists are concerned that the relentless revelations regarding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's use of public funds and his failure to solve the housing crisis are eroding the party's support.

While the polls still have the party on around 23 Knesset seats, trailing the Labour-led Zionist Camp by a small gap, they fear the erosion is irreversible and could whittle them down to as low as 18 seats.

Labour's main concern, meanwhile, is that it will be incapable of stitching together a coalition from the patchwork of parties that will make up the next Knesset.

So far, only three parties have clearly committed themselves to recommending either of the main candidates as prime minister after the election.

Left-wing Meretz has promised to recommend Isaac Herzog, while on the right, Habayit Hayehudi and Shas breakaway Yachad have committed to Mr Netanyahu. Both Mr Herzog and Mr Netanyahu will need the support of at least three of the remaining uncommitted parties to form a coalition.

While the United Arab List will never recommend Mr Netanyahu, it is highly unlikely that - for the first time in their history - they will join a government, even one led by Mr Herzog.

The two main Charedi parties will make their decision after the election but senior figures in Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) have indicated they will choose Mr Netanyahu. "Our public expect us to go with the right wing," said UTJ MK Moshe Gafni this week.

Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon, widely regarded as a potential kingmaker, is also refraining from making his preference known. Mr Kahlon refers to his new party as "the real Likud", but after falling out with the prime minister two years ago, could go either way.

Yesh Atid leader, Yair Lapid, has repeatedly said during the campaign that his aim is "replacing Netanyahu", but at the same time refuses to commit to Mr Herzog. Zionist Union currently see him as the main threat, and this week an anonymous campaign was launched under the slogan "Lapid is Bibi".

While Yesh Atid is doing better in the polls than many expected, with an average of 12 seats (down from 19 in the current Knesset), there is a general expectation in the political establishment that Mr Lapid will be forced to sit in opposition in the next Knesset. "It's inconceivable that the Charedi parties won't be in the next government, no matter who the prime minister is," said a senior Likud operative. "They won't sit with Lapid under any circumstances, and Netanyahu and Herzog will both be happy to see Yesh Atid wither away on the backbenches."

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