And the winner is….

And the winner is….

After a month of campaigning, the votes were cast on Tuesday. The ballots were counted by Tuesday night. And as of Wednesday the winner is … not so clear.

No, this isn’t an Israeli reproduction of the hanging chad debacle of 2000 (or the recounts of 2004). This is typical Israeli politics.

Kadima’s Tzipi Livni and Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu both claimed victory Tuesday night as Kadima was projected to win one more Knesset seat than its right-wing rival.

Just because Livni’s party won, though, doesn’t automatically mean she becomes prime minister. That’s not how Israeli politics work. All the heads of the parties will get together in a cabal and decide who they think has the best shot at creating a coalition. President Peres then appoints that person prime minister. Usually it’s the head of the party with the most seats. But, in some cases, it’s the person the other leaders think is more likely to lead a lasting coalition. While Livni may have won the election, the right-wing bloc soundly won more seats than the left-wing, which makes Bibi the more likely candidate to pull together a working coalition – something Livni failed to do just three months ago.

The whole idea of forming a coalition is flawed. While each party has issues its members care about, a transformation inevitably occurs after each election. Every minor party with a platform turns into a lobby that puts its own special interests ahead of the greater good. Of the more than 30 parties on the ballot, 12 won at least three seats. A stable coalition requires 61 seats, which means even a party with only three mandates can sway the government.

If the prime minister-elect cannot make enough (com)promises, then the entire cycle repeats itself three months later – as we saw last year. And a coalition partner could bring down the government at any time by pulling out – hence the reason that an Israeli prime minister has not completed a full term in decades.

Doing away with the coalition system and moving to direct elections are the only ways to solve this. The prime minister should be elected separately from the Knesset and the Knesset elections should be divided into regional direct elections. Rather than voting for the party, let the people vote for the individuals.

Otherwise Israel will just continue these election cycles every time a coalition partner doesn’t get exactly what it wants.