With 100% of the ballots counted, the ruling Kadima Party has retained the largest number of seats in Israel’s Knesset, with 28. Likud came in a close second with 27 (despite leading in virtually every poll in the past few weeks), and Yisrael Beiteinu finished third with 15. Labor and Shas rounded out the significant parties, with 13 and 11 respectively. The remaining 26 seats were split among seven parties across the political spectrum.
What this means is that while Likud and Kadima are the “major” parties that have a realistic shot at forming a coalition government, neither one was able to get more than 23 percent of the popular vote. In fact, only four parties (those two and Labor and Yisrael Beiteinu) were able to muster double digit percentages.
The quest is now on for Kadima and Likud to gain the support of the various parties to make the case that they should be given the first opportunity to form the government. Though Labor is perceived as a more likely partner in a left-center coalition with Kadima and Yisrael Beiteinu is considered a likely Likud partner, both have remained open to joining a coalition with either of the top two, and Labor has left open the possibility that they would simply become an opposition party.
In the end, President Shimon Peres is the most important person in the equation, as he is the one who gets to decide which party gets first crack at forming a coalition. If one party or the other can get a firm commitment from enough members it would be very difficult for Peres to ignore, but the reality is that many of the small parties will likely hold out looking for key ministerial positions.