Barak Wins Race For Prime Minister, Major Parties Lose Ground in Knesset

(May 18, 1999)

One Israel leader Ehud Barak defeated incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the race for prime minister 55.9% to 43.9%*. Nearly 80% of the nation's 4.3 million eligible voters cast ballots.

At about 10:30 p.m. Israel time, Netanyahu conceded defeat and congratulated Barak. He also announced that he was quiting his post as Likud party leader.

Barak won a majority of the Jewish vote (51.5%-48.3%), but the margin of victory was clearly attributable to the overwhelming support — 94.3% — he got from non-Jews. In Jerusalem (64.5%-35.4%), the West Bank (81.4%-18.5%), and Gaza Strip (92%-7.9%), Netanyahu won convincingly; however, he lost badly in the other major cities (Tel Aviv, 64.2%-35.6%; Haifa, 67.8%-32.1%) and the Golan Heights (58.5%-41.4%).

Results suggest the Knesset will once again be fragmented, with 15 parties winning seats, up from 11 in the outgoing Knesset.

The One Israel slate (composed of the Labor, Meimad, and Gesher parties) headed by Barak garnered the most votes, but still won only 22% of the 120 seats at stake. In fact, this coalition won only 26 seats compared to the 34 Labor alone had in the 14th Knesset. This is the lowest number of seats the party has ever held since the founding of Israel.

The results for the Likud were even worse. The party had 32 seats in the previous Knesset and won only 19 this time. The last time the party had so few seats was in the 9th Knesset. The other big losers in this election were the Tsomet and Third Way parties, which failed to win any seats.

The Center Party formed this year with Yitzhak Mordechai as its leader also had a disappointing showing, winning only 6 seats. Mordechai dropped out of the race for Prime Minister at the last minute when it was clear he had no chance to win and his decision is viewed as having helped Barak win.

A number of groups and parties did very well in this election. The religious Shas party's representation jumped from 10 to 17 seats despite its leader, Aryeh Deri, being recently convicted of serious crimes. Some analysts believe the election result may have been a backlash of religious voters' outraged by what they viewed as the unjust prosecution of Deri.

Instead of two Arab parties (Hadash and the Democratic Arab Party) with nine seats, the new Knesset will have 10 members from three parties — Hadash (3), the United Arab List (5) and the National Democratic Alliance (2). The left of center Shinui party also increased its strength from one to six seats.

The growing population from the former Soviet Union also showed its strength in this election by raising the number of seats of its representatives from 7 to 10. This constituency also fragmented, however, with Natan Sharansky's Yisrael b'Aliyah party winning six seats, and the new Yisrael Beitenu party of Avigdor Lieberman (who endorsed Netanyahu) taking the remaining four.

One other major change in the makeup of the new Knesset is the increase in the number of female members from 9 to 14. Among this group is the first Arab woman to join the Knesset, Husniya Jabara, from Taibeh, who received the 10th Knesset slot on the Meretz Party list. This is the largest number of women ever to serve in the Israeli parliament.


Total number of ballot boxes counted: 7,218
Total number of registered voters: 4,285,428

Total number of voters: 3,372,952
Total number of eligible ballots: 3,193,494
Total number of disqualified ballots: 179,458
Percentage of registered voters who cast ballots: 78.7%
CANDIDATE No. of votes % of votes
Ehud Barak 1,791,020 56.08%
Binyamin Netanyahu 1,402,474 43.92%

Total number of voters: 3,373,748
Total number of eligible ballots: 3,309,416
Total number of disqualified ballots: 64,332
Minimum votes for election to Knesset: 49,672
Number of votes per Knesset seat: 25,936
LIST No. of seats No. of votes % of votes
One Israel 26 670,484 20.2%
Likud 19 468,103 14.1%
Shas 17 430,676 13%
Meretz - Democratic Israel 10 253,525 7.6%
Yisrael Ba'aliya 6 171,705 5.1%
Shinui 6 167,748 5%
Center Party 6 165,622 5%
National Religious Party 5 140,307 4.2%
United Torah Judaism 5 125,741 3.7%
United Arab List 5 114,810 3.4%
National Unity 4 100,181 3%
Hadash 3 87,022 2.6%
Yisrael Beitenu 4 86,153 2.6%
National Democratic Alliance 2 66,103 1.9%
One Nation 2 64,143 1.9%

Note: The remaining lists obtained less than the required minimum for election (1.5% of the total vote):


LIST   No. of votes % of votes
Pnina Rosenblum   44,953 1.3%
Power for Pensioners   37,525 1.1%
Green Leaf Party   34,029 1%
Third Way   26,290 0.7%
Israel Green Party   13,292 0.4%
Hope (Tikva)   7,366 0.2%
Casino Party   6,540 0.1%
Lev - Immigrants for Israel   6,311 0.1%
Negev Party   4,324 0.1%
Tsomet - Movement for Renewed Zionism   4,128 0.1%
Natural Law Party   2,924 <0.1%
Progressive Center Party   2,797 <0.1%
Democratic Action Organization   2,151 <0.1%
New Arab Party   2,042 <0.1%
Men`s Family Rights   1,257 <0.1%
Tradition of the Fathers (Moreshet Avot)   1,164 <0.1%

Source: Jerusalem Post, (May 17, 1999); CNN, (May 18, 1999), Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Haaretz, (May 19, 1999)