TEL AVIV, March 15 Yair Lapid, a former TV
anchor whose upstart political party was the biggest surprise in
Israel's election, was named the country's new finance minister
on Friday as a government coalition deal was signed, his
Lapid's centrist Yesh Atid party won a more-than-expected 19
seats in the Jan. 22 election, the second most behind Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud-Beiteinu
alliance's 31 seats in the 120-member parliament.
After nearly six weeks of negotiations, Yesh Atid agreed on
Thursday to join a Netanyahu-led governing coalition. The deal,
and a separate alliance between Likud-Beiteinu and the far-right
Jewish Home party, were signed on Friday.
Lapid, who will replace Yuval Steinitz once a new government
is sworn in, ran largely on a platform of easing financial
pressures on the middle class through the need to share the
burden - a rejection of privileges for ultra-Orthodox Jews.
The new minister faces a major fiscal challenge in trying to
reduce a budget deficit that reached 4.2 percent of gross
domestic product in 2012, double an initial target of 2 percent.
Zach Herzog, head of international sales at brokerage Psagot
Securities, said Lapid will have to prove to markets that he can
manage fiscal policy.
"From what little can be gleaned about his economic views he
will be fairly in line with centrist-right economic policy,"
Herzog said. "He will make cuts in social services, child
benefits. That's part of the platform he ran on."