A former television news anchor whose new centrist party stormed to second place in Israel’s election may well be the kingmaker holding the keys to the next coalition government.
The Yesh Atid (There’s a Future) party led by Yair Lapid, 49, landed 19 seats in parliament in Tuesday’s vote, second only to the bruised victor, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose right-wing Likud-Beitenu party plummeted to 31 seats from 42.
Only months after he took up active politics, Lapid can now aspire to a powerful new role as a senior partner in Netanyahu’s next coalition and tie-breaker in a 120-seat parliament split roughly down the middle between right and left.
As leader of the fledgling party, Lapid has pressed on with a fight, once championed by his late father, a cabinet minister, against the influence Israel’s growing ultra-Orthodox Jewish community wields on many aspects of life in the diverse country.
The salt-and-pepper-haired politician’s platform, chiselled looks and pledges of change attracted younger and middle-class voters who resent the exemptions from military service granted to ultra-Orthodox Jews and their reliance on state welfare.
“Where’s the money?” his simple campaign slogan asked, pointing to the ultra-Orthodox, business monopolies and state investment in far-flung Jewish settlements as the answer.
Lapid has pledged to abolish army conscription exemptions for Jewish seminary students and widen the tax base by bringing more of the ultra-Orthodox, who make up about 10 percent of Israel’s 7.8 million people, into the workforce.
A martial arts enthusiast, Lapid’s surprisingly strong showing in the vote will give him political muscle in negotiations with Netanyahu on joining a governing coalition.