Abstention: The common enemy of all parties

Defence-point.com is presenting for readers a series of observations by noted researcher Gabriel Haritos broadly entitled “The Israeli Parliamentary Elections of September 17, 2019, and the Greek Regional Factor.” These studies will be featured, over the days leading up to the election.

Gabriel Haritos, Ph.D., Researcher, The Ben Gurion Reserach Institute, Ben Gurion University of the Negev and Senior Fellow, Cyprus Center for European and International Affairs.

Abstention: The common enemy of all parties

In just a few hours, 6,394,030 Israeli voters over the age of 18 will begin arriving at polls on September 17, 2019. It will be the second time Israel will vote on the election of 120 Knesset members, since, in the April 9th elections did not provide the appropriate post-election partnerships to allow Benjamin Netanyahu to remain in the prime ministerial post – a post he has held for ten consecutive years.

The total number of ballot boxes is 11,163. Of these, 3,993 ballot boxes will be mobile, which will be used by citizens who have declared that due to health, it is impossible to go to the polls, as well as the soldiers serving at their units. Also, 189 ballot boxes will be in hospitals and other health facilities, and 56 ballot boxes will be placed in the country’s prisons. On September 5, 2019, Israeli diplomats and their families already voted in 97 ballot boxes placed at Israeli embassies around the world. These ballots are already in Israel and their vote count will begin at the same time as the regular vote count which is scheduled for tomorrow at 10pm.

Tomorrow, the voting process in the big cities will start at 8am and end at 10pm, while in the small settlements the polls will close at 8pm.

The first exit polls will be announced tomorrow at 10pm, and it is estimated that shortly after midnight we will have a clear picture of the distribution of the coming Knesset seats.

The electoral system is simple proportional across the realm, with no additional national-wide party-list seats in parliament and no preference for individuals. The minimum electoral threshold for a party to enter the Knesset is set at 3.25%, which corresponds to 154,000 valid ballots. If a party succeeds in getting a minimum of 3.25%, then it will have 4 seats. Therefore, no party in the Israeli parliament can be represented with less than 4 seats.

During the long informal election campaign, which lasted 9 whole months – if we take into account the pre-election period of 9 April – all that was to be said has been said.

But since last night, the common enemy of all parties is abstention.

It is a fact that the Israeli public seems tired of the long-running election campaign. If we consider that tomorrow’s weather will be summery, that Election Day is an official holiday for all, and that the use of public transport will be free, so that all citizens can go to the polls – then it is not not at all strange that party staffs are worried about the possibility of high abstention rates. After all, it’s a common secret that the day after the election, no matter what, no one will know what the new coalition government will be.

One thing to keep in mind is that the average Israeli voter has great difficulty changing ideological sides. This has been shown by recent elections, and also by polls. A ‘Left’ voter does not easily move to the ‘Right’, nor vice versa. However, voter movement from one party of the right or the left to another party of the right or left could be significant- and this is one element that is likely to change the course of events in the coming weeks.
Another characteristic that emerged both in the previous elections of April 9 and in the current election period is the very personal character of parties. The general impression is that the old ‘parties of principles’ no longer exist, mainly because of the intense controversy over the person and character of Benjamin Netanyahu himself. The average voter tends to identify himself as being either in favor of or against him – and respectively in favor of or against the personality of his main opponent, Benny Gentz.

However, any further analysis is unnecessary, as tomorrow what criteria the Israeli voters ultimately voted for will become apparent.

What is striking about these elections, however, is the ingenuity of the party staffs to persuade the public to go to the polls. Since yesterday, a long list of retailers and restaurants has been circulating online that will offer up to 30% off customers who will show their cashier or waiter a selfie in front of the ballot box (!).

A similar “vote chase” has come on state television, which will for the first time open special channels on youtube that will run all day long – until the announcement of the election results – broadcasting what is happening with simultaneous translation into six different languages spoken in Israel (Ethiopian, Georgian, English, French, and Russian). In addition, the results with both subtitles and sign language for viewers who have hearing problems, as well as a description of “in simple words” for viewers with intellectual problems will be broadcast over youtube. Finally, for the first time the coverage of the elections will also be undertaken by the Educational Television channel: Throughout the day, a journalist with elementary students will discuss what happens before and during the broadcast of election results, with language understood by children who still go to school. However, the ‘baby’ news coverage of the day will not last until the wee hours – since the day after school bell ring at 8 in the morning.