Monday, February 9, 2009

Election Day!

Tomorrow is Election Day here in Israel. While the country will effectively have a new president, they are actually voting for a party, not a candidate.

This top office is not called president, it's called Prime Minister, who is the head of the party that has the most seats in the Knesset (the Israeli senate basically, though there is no house of representatives). Israel has a president, Shimon Peres, but it's more of a ceremonial role. The Prime Minister must reach an accord between all of the many parties in Israel's coalition-style government.

So while there are maybe a dozen or more political parties, there are three front-running parties in the country. They are Kadima, Likud and Labor. Kadima and Likud are very close.

Kadima= Benjamin Netanyahu, former Prime Minister
Likud=Tzipi Livni (a woman!), Minister of Foreign Affairs
Labor= Ehud Barak, former Prime Minister, current Minister of Defense
(also, the spoiler party, on the very hard right is Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party)

So when people go out to vote, they are voting for a list of candidates for each party. The party with the most votes gets to have their leader be Prime Minister. But since there are so many parties, the vote is split, and in order to get a majority, one of the front-running Prime Minister candidates needs to get the support of other parties to boost its numbers. The other parties are represented in the Knesset according to the share of votes they received. This election is kinda special, though, because the current Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert of Kadima, is resigning due to an investigation into corruption in his office. Though Livni won the September election, she was unable to form a government. So now there is a full-on election.
As you know, Israel has what one might call "instant citizenship". You come to Israel as a Jew and you can become a citizen if you like. That means that there are thousands of people voting in this election that are new citizens, many of them from Russia, many of them lacking basic Hebrew, and many of them haven't been here very long. If the current polls are any indication, a whole heck of a lot of these votes will go to the very hard right candidate Lieberman. One story I read quoted a rabbi saying that a vote for Lieberman is a vote for the devil. Why? He is so far right that it will surely bring up an uprising of the Arab community.
Also to the right, and currently the front-runner by a hair is Bibi Netanyahu. Bibi owes Hamas a debt of gratutide, because if it weren't for their incessant shelling and the susequent war, the country wouldn't be right as it is right now. Bibi will send Israel into war again, to be sure.
Livni, by comparison and though Defense Minister, is a moderate. She is 50 and has had a comparatively short political career. She was protege, kind of, of Ariel Sharon, who promoted her from within while he was Prime Minister. She seems to have the youth vote, which is sick of political corruption. Perhaps she is courting it: it was reported that she took over the DJ booth at a Tel Aviv night club over the weekend, giving a speech and then playing nationalistic songs.
Though the race is close between Livni and Bibi, with Bibi having a slight lead, the 'undecideds' are at 30% here. That's huge. When J and I went out to dinner and drinks that other night, I took an informal (and quite lubricated) poll of the people around us. Everyone hated all of the candidates, and was choosing the 'lesser of two evils'. Half of the people I talked to weren't going to vote, or said that the would make up their minds when they got to the polls. the other half were voting for Livni. When I asked the follow-up, "who do you think will win?" everyone, without a fault, said Netanyahu.
Hamas rockets are still dropping on Israel today, a day before the election, so it's no wonder that Netanyahu has an edge. Not to play the gender card, but in times of war, could a male-dominated society like this one actually vote for a woman? Even a woman who has been Defense Minister for years, and who once worked intellegence for Mossad? I don't want to be cynical, but I don't think so.
Back to Lieberman and how he plays in all of this. Here's some analysis that I read this morning in Haaretz: "Even if Kadima gets one or two more seats in the Knesset than Likud, Netanyahu, together with other right-wing and ultra-orthodox parties, will be substantially larger than the center-left bloc. And even if Lieberman joins Livni. she needs another right-wing party to form a government, because Meretz and the Arab parties won't support a government that includes Lieberman. Livni's bloc, which today stands at about 52 or 53 seats, will lose 12 or 13 spots the moment she goes with Lieberman." So Lieberman, while not having enough votes to win, could end up being a king- (or queen-) maker.
Up until the war ended, you wouldn't know that there was an election coming up. There were some billboards and ads, but not the amount that we have seen the past couple of weeks. The press seems to have covered the candidate equally.
I am not sure who is going to win. I like Livni because she was the candidate I saw most during the war coverage. She is tough and well-spoken and has this no-bull demeanor. It's not really clear what will happen if either candidate wins, either. But, once again, it's an exciting time to be in this country.
-----> Coming up in Bitai Avon: If all goes as planned, we are heading to Egypt next weekend. Also be on the lookout for a Purim report (it's the Jewish Halloween).


Niki said...

Just to follow up. The election is a tie so far. I will report back when one of them has formed a coalition.

In other news, we are postponing our trip to Egypt, but we have been doing a lot of travel in the country.

Will post more about that soon!

Niki said...

Great analysis from:

Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni are like two card players at the table, neither with a good hand, each staring the other down. They know that neither of them has good cards. But they have to keep playing because their egos hold sway, and because they are in no hurry. Livni has no coalition - not with Avigdor Lieberman because Labor and Meretz will not join, and not without Lieberman, because Likud and the ultra-Orthodox will not join.

Netanyahu also has no coalition. He still does not have 65 MKs to recommend him to the president and will probably not have this number by the end of the week, when the Knesset factions go to the president. Lieberman will apparently not recommend him and neither will Livni.

Netanyahu can take comfort only in the larger number of lawmakers recommending him over Livni, which does not ensure him a coalition. And if it does, it's the coalition of his nightmares: a dogmatic right-wing, ultra-Orthodox coalition, which exerts pressure, can be pressured and is hated by most of the public, including most Likud voters.

Netanyahu will not hear of a Kadima-Labor-Likud coalition; Livni and Ehud Barak will bolt the moment they see the chance to win an election. Netanyahu needs body armor to defend himself against these two opponents, which comes in the form of the ultra-right and the ultra-Orthodox parties.

Haim Ramon's idea of a Likud-Kadima-Yisrael Beiteinu constellation is also unacceptable to Netanyahu, because with 70 MKs, he will be totally dependent on Livni. Until the weekend, he had high hopes that Shaul Mofaz and his other supporters in Kadima would come over to Likud. However, after intensive talks over the past two days before the Kadima faction meeting, he realized Mofaz was playing it safe.

Netanyahu is afraid to invite Kadima without being in the company of his partners to the right, and he is afraid to be left with only his partners to the right. He believes everything will change when he gets the president's nod, when after a secret meeting with Livni they will forge a fine government.

But Livni will demand a rotation, and for now, Netanyahu won't allow this word to be spoken in his presence. Will this be his position at the end of the 28 or 42 days the law gives him to form a government? It's still too early to say. The best (or the worst) is yet to come.

Mara said...

Has there been a resolution to the election yet?

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