From the founding of the state until the 1980's there was basically 1 Charedi political party, Agudat Yisrael. In the 1980's R' Shach encouraged the Sefardim to create Shas and he created Degel Hatorah. Today we have the following:
1. Aguda - represents the Chassidic communities. The Gerer Rebbe is the defacto head, most of their votes come from Chassidim, currently has 3 seats
2. Degal Hatorah - represents the Yeshivish Ashkenzai community. R' Elyashiv and R' Steinman are the Rabbinic leaders, almost all of their votes come from Ashkenazi Charedim, currently has 2 seats
3. Shas - represents the Sefardi community. R' Ovadya Yosef is the Rabbinic leader, a large portion of their votes comes from Masorti Sefardim, currently has 11 seats.
In the Ashkenazi world Degel and Aguda have traditionally run together for the Knesset. In the last Knesset they feuded and split. Last Thursday, I heard on an interview on Radio Kol Chai with R' Ravitz (a Degel Hatora MK ) who basically said that the political leaders could not get along and they would be running separately. This is a big problem for the following reason. The threshold to get into the Knesset is 2.5%, 3 seats. In other words a party which gets less then 3 seats is out. Lets take the following made up numbers. Each Knesset seat takes 50,000 votes. If Degel gets 120,000 votes and Aguda 130,000, running together as 1 list they would have 5 seats. However running separately they would both be out of the Knesset as neither received 3 seats. Given that they currently only have 5 seats together and they may lose votes because they were in the government during disengagement, there is a real possibility of this happening.
Shas has always appealed to Masorti Sefardi voters and therefore has had much more success then the Ashkenazi Charedi parties. However, with the election of Amir Peretz as head of Labor this may end. Amir Peretz appeals to the same Sefardi Masorti voter. He is one of them. In fact, he is less threatening then Shas because he is not really religious and has no coercive religious agenda. There is another issue as well. For the past 2-3 years Shas has been campaigning as the party of the working man and the poor. Until now, they had no competition. However, again, Amir Peretz appeals to this sector as well. He is a populist who has a reputation of working for the little guy. Many voters may rather vote for him because he has a chance to be Prime Minister then Shas. Therefore, the general consensus is that Shas may lose up to half their seats leaving them with 5-6 seats.
Shinui, if they play their cards right may also benefit or at least keep their current strength. There are many middle class Labor voters who will never vote for Amir Peretz, they fear that he will turn the clock back, raise taxes etc. If Shinui campaigns as the party of the middle class they may have some success.
The doomsday scenario for the Charedi population is the following:
- Degel and Aguda run separately and neither passes the threshold and therefore there is no Ashkenazic Charedi representation in the Knesset.
- Shas gets only 5 or 6 seats
- Shinui retains it's current strength 15 seats
This would be a complete and utter disaster for the Charedi world. The flow of money to the Yeshivos, kollelim etc. would be completely cut off. The Charedi population thinks the past few years under Netanyahu were tough, under this scenario things would get much tougher.
What are the odds of this happening? Not high but definately possible, stranger things have happened.