On Tuesday March 28, the citizens of Israel voted in what was arguably one of the most important general elections in the nation’s history. With a record low voter turnout, the centrist Kadima Party secured a plurality with 28 of the 120 seats in the Knesset (Israeli parliament). Kadima, led by Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, was widely expected to win, but its base of support has narrowed sharply over the past few months. Kadima founder and then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was incapacitated by a massive stroke on January 4 and remains in a coma, and while Olmert initially maintained and exceeded Sharon’s poll numbers, Kadima’s popularity has fallen since then. Despite their victory, Tuesday’s results were particularly disappointing for Olmert and his allies, as voter-intent polls in January showed Kadima winning over 40 Knesset seats, and polls from earlier this week suggested that Kadima would win 34 seats.
The Israeli Labor Party, under its new leader Amir Peretz, earned 20 Knesset seats. The Likud Party, Labor’s traditional rival and Israel’s largest party before its former leader Sharon broke away to found Kadima in November, won only 11 seats. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who masterminded the internal Likud rebellion that forced Sharon and others in favor of the continued removal of Jewish settlers from Palestinian lands to leave the party, had the dubious distinction of leading Likud to the worst showing in party history. The religious (Orthodox Jewish) Shas Party won 13 Knesset seats and Israel Beiteinu, a socially conservative party whose support has traditionally been limited to Jews of Russian ancestry, won 12 seats. Surprisingly, a the Gil (Pensioners) Party, which has little political ideology except increased spending on senior citizens, won 7 seats.