Sunday 21 October 2012

Lack of Election Excitement

Months of speculation have now been put to rest with the announcement that Israel will hold a general election on 22 January 2013 for the 19th Knesset since the founding of the state in 1948.  The Knesset returned to sit this week after the summer recess, and  almost immediately dissolved itself to allow 3 months until the election is held.

Prime Minister Netanyahu announced the early election on national television last week.  He acknowledged that the main driver behind his decision to bring forward the date of the election, is his belief that he will be unable to pass the state budget for 2013 with the existing coalition.  Differently stated, I think that the prime minister has decided that the concessions that he would be forced to make in order to pass the state budget, do not warrant waiting until summer to hold the election.  It is clear that one of the terms that coalition partners will be forced to agree to when the new government is constructed, is that they will support the vote on the state budget.  The new government will aim to pass this as one of its very first acts when it comes into power after the election.

The Israeli public is particularly unenthusiastic about the prospects of being involved in a general election at this time.  This is not an indication that the public does not value the democracy that is such an important part of every aspect of Israeli lifestyle.  It is just that, at this juncture, most believe that an election will not bring about any change to the current set of circumstances that Israelis find themselves in.  If things were going well, this would be OK.  The issue is that things could be a lot better.  The list of challenges that Israel finds herself up against now stretch from economic issues to the conflict with Iran.  We should not forget the ongoing civil war on the border in Syria, and the downturn in relations with the USA.  Rocket fire from Gaza towards Israeli civilians continues unabated, and the politicians have failed to find a solution to resolve the conundrum of how to draft religious young people to the army.  Many of these problems are pressing, and require urgent attention by the political establishment.

The above list of problematic issues may make us seem ungrateful for what we have.  This is not the case, and there are indeed many good things about living in Israel for which we are extremely grateful.  The country continues to develop and grow, and is a miracle of modern times in terms of what has been achieved here in a short period of time.  The good things are not ignored or forgotten by those living here.  It is also true that we all desire more and better, even when things are good.  These desires can sometimes be tangled up with the real problems threatening the existence of the state, and the well-being of its citizens.  There can be no mistake, however, that there are some extremely urgent problems to be taken care of, upon which the future wellbeing of Israel and her citizens rests.  Economic information shows that a high percentage of citizens are living on or below the bread line.  This, in itself, is a very serious election issue and not a luxury or a "nice to have".  There are a number of other issues that are equally as important.

The problem with the current political environment leading into the next election, is that Prime Minister Netanyahu has no serious competition facing him.  The only real question which currently needs answering is how much of a majority his coalition will have in the next government.  There is no competitor to Bibi who looks remotely electable as prime minister.  This fact leads to apathy within the electorate, as there is a feeling that there is not the same ability to influence the outcome of the election.  As a result, many people prefer to stay at home rather than turn out to vote.  This, in turn, could influence the outcome of the election if too many people who would vote for a certain party decide not to cast their votes.  The other issue with the current situation is that governments are generally held more accountable when the opposition is stronger.  The current circumstances provide a real danger that the opposition will be weak after the election, which potentially gives the government too much of a free hand.

The public is increasingly disillusioned with politics and politicians.  There seems to be endless corruption and dishonesty inherent in Israeli politics, and this causes the electorate to distance itself from participating in the democratic process.  All of this means, sadly, that there is probably more interest in November's US presidential election than there is in our own general election.

The Israeli economy requires a state budget for 2013 to be passed as a matter of priority by the new government.  Thereafter, there is much more work to be done to ensure that the Iran issue is properly dealt with.  The list of important internal matters which awaits the new government is lengthy.  Even though it seems unexciting and the result appears to be inevitable, the Israeli public are advised to carry out their democratic responsibility and participate in the vote.  We understand that Bibi will continue in office as prime minister, but the make-up of the government is still undecided.  The public has the opportunity to at least influence this.

If we wish to ensure that Israel continues in its role as one of the only democracies in the Middle East, it is critical for all citizens to participate in this democracy, even when it seems that the result is difficult to influence.  It is important to strengthen this democracy by participating in it at every opportunity.  This is no exception.

No comments: