Exit polls of all three TV channels agree: Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will be the next leader of the Kadima Party. Following some last minute maneuvers and a fairly low voting percentage (by Israeli standards), Livni seems to be the winner, after all. Whether one supported Livni or not, there’s cause for some celebration: a second woman Prime Minister is likely to take office soon.
This was not an easy battle, but it will be nothing compared to the battles ahead. If she really wants to be the Prime Minister for more than just a short time, she’ll have to stabilize a shaky coalition. This will not be easy with a party like Shas–but might be possible because Livni does have some leverage.
Theoretically speaking, she can form a coalition of the left, without Shas, and with Kadima, Labor, the dovish Meretz and the support of Arab parliament members. The leaders of Shas spent time in the opposition in the past, and don’t like the taste of it. If they believe that Livni’s narrow coalition can survive for a while, their appetite for new elections might cool down very quickly.
Of course, such a coalition will have its own downside. First of all, it’s not at all clear that all Kadima members will follow Livni into it. Second, it will establish her squarely as a left-wing leader–giving Binyamin Netanyahu the benefit of having all right wing voters to himself, while she has to split left-wing voters with Labor.
And this will also be a very limited coalition. With barely 60 members of Knesset in her camp–half the parliament–every politician will be king. Livni, the Ms. Clean of Israeli politics, will have to cave time and again to all kinds of demands and pressures as not to lose the coalition. It can’t last for very long–and it’s not clear if Livni wants to take this path. Bottom line: as Shas goes, so goes the coalition.