Monday, May 7, 2012

Did Anyone Ask for Elections?

Only a week or so ago, nobody was talking about having elections this year in Israel. The government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, whether we supported it or not, was firmly entrenched until sometime in distant 2013. And then, as if we almost missed their initial inception, early elections are all that we can talk about and will take place on September 4th. The only thing we’re lacking is an answer to the question - why?

Let’s not get our hopes up. If anyone expects Israel’s post-election government to be more stable, more capable of achieving social justice and/or restarting the peace process, he is probably unfamiliar with the fractious state of Israeli politics.

Although Israel’s opposition parties have constantly called to bring down the government, the only one who is seen as profiting from the early elections is Netanyahu and his Likud Party. Early public opinion polls suggest that the Likud will emerge as Israel’s largest political party, a title once held by Kadima, which is bound to crash after lackluster leadership by Tzipi Livni and an absence of a clear alternative offered by new party head Shaul Mofaz.

Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich is seen as a champion of social justice, and her party could see an increase in mandates, but not nearly enough to dethrone Netanyahu. Maverick television celebrity Yair Lapid just established his Yesh Atid party last week, and except for calling on the ultra-Orthodox to take up their share of service to the country, no one really knows what he stands for or who will serve on the party’s Knesset list. Even so, Yesh Atid is ranking relatively high in the early public opinion polls.

On the political right, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman may be legally barred from serving in the next government yet his Yisrael Beiteinu faction could still fare well in the elections. The ultra-Orthodox Shas party still doesn’t know whether former chairman Aryeh Deri will join its ranks or set up a rival party.

The person most likely to find himself without a Knesset seat is Defense Minister Ehud Barak, as his Atzmaut party is not predicted to garner enough votes to remain in the parliament. There is talk that Barak will make his way to the Likud’s list, or alternatively retain his ministerial position while not serving as a Knesset member.

As stated before, there is no exact answer to the question why elections are suddenly on Israel’s agenda for 2012. An article posted on the Times of Israel website on Friday suggested some reasons, but concluded by stating that “what is coming up are elections nobody really wanted - neither the politicians who on Sunday will initiate the proceedings to dissolve the current Knesset, nor the voters.”

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