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News Analysis: Olim May Decide Election Outcome, but Religious Bloc to Hold Balance

June 5, 1992
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The outcome of Israel’s June 23 elections will likely be determined by the votes cast by recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union, since veteran Israelis are expected to vote much as they did in 1988.

But according to a leading Israeli pollster, the strictly Orthodox parties are likely to retain the balance of power when it comes to forming a new government.

The result of the elections will be a hung parliament, according to Dr. Aharon Fein, director of the Tazpit Research Institute, who gave an election briefing for foreign correspondents arranged by the Government Press Office.

Fein, an expert on the voting patterns of emigres from the newly independent republics of the former Soviet Union, said that for the past two years his institution has done almost monthly surveys among the newcomers.

The recent immigrants, who have increased Israel’s population by about 7 percent, are overwhelmingly secular, tend to be highly educated and generally identify themselves with Israel’s Ashkenazic population, Fein said.

That could spell trouble for the religious parties and for the Likud.

Likud’s strongest support has always come from the Sephardic population, Jews whose origins are in North African or Middle Eastern countries.

Labor Party supporters, on the other hand, come mainly from European backgrounds and tend to be more educated than Likud followers.

A survey carried out last year right after the Persian Gulf War indicated that 46 percent of the immigrants supported the right wing, probably out of a sense of support for the government at a critical time. General population surveys at that time also showed an upsurge of support for the establishment.

But subsequent surveys of new immigrants, taken in June and October 1991 and in January, March and April 1992, found a decrease in support for Likud and the right-wing parties, and conversely, a rise in support for Labor.


Fein attributed the rapid decline of support for the governing parties among olim to the fact that they are now facing harsh facts of life in Israel. For many, the basket of subsidies and services that cushioned their first year of life in the country has been exhausted.

The surveys showed that the immigrants, on their own for the first time, are disappointed by the lack of adequate housing and jobs. The unemployment rate for olim is 35 percent, compared to 11 percent for the country as a whole. And the immigrants consider the few jobs that are available beneath their training and abilities.

Some 240,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union are eligible to vote out of an overall Israeli electorate of 3.4 million.

If the usual 80 percent turnout rate among veteran Israelis holds true for the immigrants, they are likely to decide the composition of 8.5 Knesset seats, Fein calculated.

The immigrant vote could therefore determine which of the major parties gets the first crack at forming a government.

The Tazpit director found little support among newcomers for the new, specifically Russian-based parties. About 10 to 11 percent said they would vote for these parties, but Fein does not expect them to surpass the 1.5 percent threshold parties need to win a Knesset seat.

About 42 percent of the immigrants said in the last week of April that they would vote for Labor; 14 percent for Likud; 6 percent for the left-wing Meretz bloc; and 6 percent for the right-wing Moledet, Tsomet and Tehiya parties.

Only 1 percent said they would vote for the religious parties. And about 20 percent could not or would not disclose their voting plans.


Citing these preferences, Fein predicted that Labor would gain three or four Knesset seats from the new voters, while Likud would gain one.

He predicted that Meretz would gain about one seat and the right-wing Moledet, Tehiya and Tsomet parties would gain one among them.

“When we add the immigrant factor, we expect that Labor will get 43 seats; Likud, 37; the three small parties of the right, eight seats among them; Meretz, 11; the religious parties, 16 and the Arab parties five,” Fein said.

If he is correct, Labor and the left-wing bloc will gain 54 seats in the 120-member Knesset, while Likud and the right-wing bloc will gain 45 seats.

If Labor wins tacit support from the Arab parties but no support from the religious bloc, it would only be able to muster 59 votes, two less than a majority.

If, on the other hand, the religious parties support Likud, a Likud-led coalition would hold a precarious majority of 61 in the 120-seat Knesset.

Such a government would likely be held ransom to stiff demands from the religious parties. And it would be a Knesset in which no party could allow a single member to be absent — away from the country or even away from the Knesset building — for a single day in case there were a snap vote that might bring down the government.

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