Saturday 7 February 2009

General Election Duty

When I go to the voting booth to exercise my democratic right on Tuesday for the elections to the 18th Knesset, it will not be out of enthusiasm that one of the parties truly represents everything that I wish to see in the new government. Like many other Israelis, I have not fully made up my mind who I should vote for. The main reason that I will vote at all is because I feel the need and obligation to exercise my right to do so. I imagine what I would answer my predecessors who lived through the Nazi holocaust if they asked me why I do not vote in the elections for a new government in a Jewish state, in our Jewish country. So I will vote. I will try to vote positively for one of the parties as opposed to a blank white slip. But I am not yet sure whose name will be on my voting slip.

There does not seem to be one party that represents everything that I am looking for in a new government. I do not believe that my demands are unreasonable or harsh. On the contrary, I feel that they are quite ordinary, understandable and middle-of-the-road. I want a government that will be tough on security and deal with the ongoing threat against the State of Israel in an uncompromising, but fair manner; I want a government that will bring Gilad Shalit home soon; I want a government that will stimulate the economy and cut our tax burden; I want a government that will put a great deal more money and effort into educating our children; I want a government that will preserve the character and the nature of Israel as a Jewish state; I want a government that is free from corruption and behaves in a manner that is transparent and moral; I want a government that has as its leader a person who has an unblemished character and who can be trusted to make the right decisions in the best interests of Israel during good times and bad. As simple as this sounds, it feels as though I am asking for the impossible.

The choices on offer to the voters seem to be a mixture of people that should not be Prime Minister, and parties whose policies appear suspect. The leading parties (and their leaders who will be Prime Minister if they win) are Likud (Netanyahu), Labour (Barak), Kadima (Livni) and Yisrael Beiteinu (Lieberman). Netanyahu and Barak have both had previous stints as Prime Minister. Neither can be regarded as successful. Barak was exposed after offering to divide Jerusalem at Camp David in negotiations with Arafat. Ironically, this offer served Israel well when when it revealed Arafat as a liar and a cheat. It has, however, left Barak with a low domestic standing for his soft approach in negotiating with the Palestinians. Netanyahu lost his credibility when, as Prime Minister, he was exposed as promising many things that clearly could never be delivered. Neither Barak nor Netanyahu have really succeeded in rehabilitating their names since their respective failures in the Prime Minister's office. Lieberman, whilst attracting a great deal of support for his uncompromising stand on security issues, can never really be regarded as a serious candidate for Prime Minister. He has a reputation as a thug and is decidedly undiplomatic in his approach to most issues. This leaves Livni, who is undamaged by any previous experience as Prime Minister, but was recently unable to form a coalition when given the opportunity. She also carries some responsibility for what is regarded as a somewhat premature exit from Gaza after the recent Operation Cast Lead.

The polls show that Livni and Netanyahu are neck-and-neck. If the Gaza War has the strong impact on the elections that it is expected to have, Netanyahu will probably have the edge. It also appears to be in his favour that Lieberman is ending the campaign very strongly, as the two seem natural bedfellows in a coalition government. The problem is that many of Lieberman's most recent gains are at the expense of Netanyahu's Likud party. This serves to weaken the latter's Prime Ministerial aspirations, and possibly strengthens Livni.

Whatever the outcome of the election, it seems inevitable that we will have to tolerate a relatively weak government with a small majority. This disproportionately strengthens the coalition partners and creates a situation where substantial concessions will be demanded and given. It will be interesting to see to what extent the Prime Minister will ultimately be in a position to remain faithful to his campaign promises after dishing out the concessions to his coalition partners. On second thought, maybe my wish list is a little too much to expect.

The French proverb comes to mind, "the more things change, the more they remain the same".

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