Israel's Netanyahu wins clear majority to form next govt

AFP , Monday 23 Mar 2015

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (File Photo: Reuters)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to be tasked with forming the next coalition government this week after winning on Monday a clear majority of support from newly elected MPs.

Netanyahu's surprise victory in last week's snap election has paved the way for the likely emergence of a new rightwing religious government that may complicate efforts to resurrect the peace process and pose further challenges for Israel's troubled ties with Washington.

The Israeli leader is expected to be formally handed the task of building a coalition government on Wednesday after securing the backing of a solid majority of MPs in the 120-seat Knesset, or parliament.

There will then follow several weeks of hard-fought coalition horsetrading as Netanyahu's potential partners battle for portfolios and prestige.

Backing for Netanyahu to stay in the post came during two days of talks between President Reuven Rivlin and representatives of the 10 parties elected to parliament who told him whom they would recommend as prime minister.

Six factions, comprising 67 MPs, threw their support behind Netanyahu, presidential spokesman Jason Pearlman told AFP as Rivlin wrapped up talks with the hardline anti-Arab Yisrael Beitenu.

In Israel, it is not necessarily the leader of the largest party who forms the next government and becomes premier, but the one who can form a working coalition, preferably with a majority of at least 61.

All six parties are expected to form part of his next government, which Netanyahu has said will be a coalition with his rightwing Likud party's "natural allies" -- the hardline rightwing and ultra-Orthodox factions.

Both Netanyahu and Isaac Herzog, leader of the centre-left Zionist Union -- which came a distant second with 24 seats -- have ruled out joining forces in a unity government.

Besides Likud, which won 30 seats, his new government is expected to include the far-right Jewish Home (eight), Yisrael Beitenu (six), ultra-Orthodox parties Shas (seven) and United Torah Judaism (six), and the newly formed centre-right Kulanu party of Likud defector Moshe Kahlon (10).

Following two days of consultations, Rivlin is due to formally name the chose candidate -- but this can only happen after he is formally presented with the official results of the election on Wednesday evening.

He is then expected to task Netanyahu with forming the next government, after which formal coalition negotiations can begin.

Netanyahu will have four weeks to complete the task, although Rivlin can extend the deadline by another 14 days if necessary.

Throughout the election campaign, Kulanu's Kahlon had held his cards close to his chest, hedging his bets as most polls predicted a win for the Zionist Union.

But after Netanyahu's decisive victory, Kahlon threw his support behind Netanyahu, in a move formalised in talks with Rivlin on Monday.

Netanyahu has promised Kahlon the powerful finance portfolio.

Four parties are expected to enter the opposition: the Zionist Union (24 seats), the Joint List (13) which groups Israel's main Arab parties, the centrist Yesh Atid (11) and the leftwing Meretz party (5).

Meanwhile, one of Israel's top singers who is also a peace activist was verbally harassed as an "enemy of Israel" by suspected rightwing thugs after returning from a trip to Italy.

The incident involving Achinoam Nini -- known overseas as Noa -- came just days after another singer was attacked at his home in central Israel by a man who tried to push him and called him "a traitor and a leftist".

Both attacks came after a year in which there was a notable increase in racist discourse in Israel, which was also reflected in the election campaign, leading to concerns about increasing polarisation within society.

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