Will a Direct Election for Prime Minister Help Netanyahu?

If Bibi wins, will his detractors finally accept his leadership as the will of the people?

By Ryan Jones | | Topics: Benjamin Netanyahu
Netanyahu would almost certainly win a direct election for prime minister
Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

Right-wing parties in the Knesset are now pushing for a special direct election for prime minister. If approved, it would presumably block the center and left-wing parties from forming a governing coalition and prevent a fifth legislative election.

But will it help Netanyahu remain in power?

The idea of a direct election for prime minister was reportedly floated last week by Shas Part leader Aryeh Deri, and then presented to Netanyahu by Yamina Party chief Naftali Bennett. According to Hebrew media reports, Netanyahu is in favor of the proposal, and hopes that with Bennett’s backing it will pass a vote in the new Knesset.

No doubt other party leaders in the anti-Netanyahu bloc would be eager to directly challenge the incumbent prime minister in a direct election. But, polls consistently show that a strong plurality of Israelis prefer Bibi as their leader.

It is all but certain that Netanyahu would walk away with the most votes in a direct election for prime minister. However, that wouldn’t necessarily make his job of cobbling together a stable ruling coalition any easier.

A special election for prime minister wouldn’t change the make-up of the new Knesset, in which currently only 52 out of 120 lawmakers have committed to sitting in a Netanyahu-led government. Even if Bennett added his party’s 7 seats to the coalition, that would still give Netanyahu only 59. And given the Opposition’s overriding personal distaste for Bibi, a minority government under his leadership would be unlikely to survive its first year, let alone a full term.

There are only two ways such a solution will lead to an outcome that’s any more stable than the current situation:

  1. Somehow, someone other than Netanyahu wins the election for prime minister and a majority of lawmakers accept the result and join his government;
  2. Netanyahu wins, thus demonstrating that a plurality, if not most Israelis want him as prime minister and the right-wing parties currently opposed to his leadership accept the will of the public and join his coalition.

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