Israel elections: Yesh Atid led by Yair Lapid surges

Yair Lapid, chairman of "Yesh Atid" party meets a supporter as he visits a polling station to cast his vote in the Israeli General Election on January 22, 2013 in Netania, Israel. The latest opinion polls suggest that current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will return to office, albeit with a reduced majority.
Credit: Ilia Yefimovich

Exit polls from Israel's election on Tuesday not only indicate that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be winning with a weaker majority than expected.

They also show that Yesh Atid (There is a Future party) is projected to win between 18 to 19 seats in Israel's parliament, known as the Knesset.

The brand new centrist party, led by recently retired journalist Yair Lapid, seemingly came out of nowhere, with pre-election polls predicting no more than 10 seats for it.

The success of Yesh Atid could force Netanyahu to take a more moderate stance on key domestic and foreign policy issues in order to form a coalition.

However, Lapid has said he would not enter a government "as the figleaf of a coalition which is constructed of ultra-Orthodox and ultra-right and me."

Netanyahu said he called Lapid, according to Agence France Presse. Netanyahu said on Facebook that he told Lapid:

"We have an opportunity to do great things for Israel. The election campaign is behind us, and we can now focus on action for the benefit of all of Israel."

Lapid had posted a brief "Thank you" on his Facebook, responding to his predicted success at the polls.

Though a political newcomer, Lapid is now in a position where he could either be an opposition leader or undertake a major cabinet post, noted AFP.

Yesh Atid's campaign message was, "We've come to make a change."

And it looks like Israelis were listening.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz noted that Lapid probably benefited from his former career as a journalist, television presenter and celebrity bank spokesman, gaining public exposure even before his foray into politics.

Lapid honed in on the tastes of voters who want change as long as it's not too drastic. These are people who love their Israeli identity and the Israel Defense Forces, but who live their lives to an American soundtrack... These are people who don't love Arabs and aren't interested in any "New Middle East," and want peace mainly so that Israel will be accepted by the West; the types who rant about Israel's lousy public diplomacy being the reason the world hates us.

Israeli media and pollsters had predicted that Israeli ultra-right-wing party Jewish Home, led by Naftali Bennett, would attract votes away from Netanyahu's Likud-Beiteinu. However, Yesh Atid's success mostly took the media and pollsters by surprise.

Haaretz said Lapid is likely to join the coalition put together by Netanyahu, but he has said in the past that he would refuse to enter the government without any other center-left parties, such as Shelly Yacimovich's Labor party (predicted to win 17 seats) or Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah.

The night before the election, Lapid said, "We won't sit in a government that once again tries on various pretexts, and due to narrow political considerations to water down our obligation to the future, and also to the present," according to Haaretz.

Lapid, a journalist with the looks and demeanor of a news anchor, is also the son of a famous politician. AFP noted that his father, Yossef "Tommy" Lapid, was also a journalist who became known as a fiercely secular justice minister.

He told The Jerusalem Post earlier this month, "We are the party of the Israeli middle class, the old fashioned tax payers who served in the army and afterwards worked hard all their life paying a high tax and see... that the cost of living is going up and up and there's no equality of burden with the other parts of Israeli society."

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