INDEPTH: MIDDLE EAST|
The Israeli Election: Winners and losers
CBC News Online | March 29, 2006
The votes are counted and the pundits were quick to weigh in on exactly what the Israeli electorate was trying to tell its politicians in the March 28 parliamentary poll. As in most elections – especially in Israel – the messages were conflicting, the surprises many.
Israel's daily newspapers, Yedioth Ahronoth and Ma'ariv, both featured the same banner headline: The Big Bang. That referred to the new reality in Israeli politics – Kadima, the first-ever centrist party to form a government in the country.
Many commentators viewed the election results as a referendum on the future direction of Israel's West Bank policy. Ehud Olmert, who took over as leader of Kadima when founder Ariel Sharon fell ill, plans to withdraw settlements from most of the West Bank within the next couple of years and set Israel's new borders by 2010.
"The nation said 'yes' Tuesday night to Olmert's withdrawal plan," said an analysis in
the Haaretz daily.
But some analysts cautioned against viewing the election as a clear endorsement of Olmert's plan to unilaterally relinquish part of the West Bank.
"I think there will be many people in Israel who oppose Olmert's policies and will argue that these elections were not a truly definitive mandate for relinquishing settlements in which tens of thousands of Israelis live," Jerusalem Post editor David Horowitz told the CBC's Adrienne Arsenault.
This election was extraordinary. And that's saying something in a young, embattled country where all of its votes are watched around the world. After all, this was an election where a comatose man loomed large. Kadima wasn't just the four-month-old creation of Sharon. It was also his legacy.
Kadima's victory ended up being narrower than pre-election polls had suggested. And its final seat tally was a far cry from the 45 seats that it was on track to win early in the campaign – before Sharon slipped into a coma in January. Still, many analysts predict Olmert will likely be able to push through the party's disengagement policy.
But many analysts and commentaries said Israelis were clearly voting not just on matters of security, but also sending unmistakable signals on bread-and-butter social and economic issues.
Consider the surprise breakthrough of the Pensioners party, Gil, on track to win seven seats. "Who won the Israeli election?" one political scientist asked in the Jerusalem Post. "The pensioners party," he replied. And he had a lot of people agreeing with him.
This is a single-issue party that had never before elected members to the Israeli parliament, or Knesset. It's chaired by a 79-year-old former spy who played a hand in the capture of Nazi fugitive Adolf Eichmann in 1960. His party's success may be, in part, a protest vote. But there's little doubt it also managed to tap into widespread disenchantment with the mainstream parties over how Israel's sizable population of seniors has fared.
Commentator Arnotz Asa-El, writing in the Jerusalem Post, said the success of the Pensioners party "constitutes a stinging vote of no confidence in Labour by what should have been its most natural constituency." After all, Labour Leader Amir Peretz had made pensioners' interests a big part of his campaign.
Still, some analysts said Labour's Peretz would have a major influence on Israeli policy. "The Labour Party and Amir Peretz, who placed social and economic issues at the fore of this campaign, will determine the future character of Israel," wrote Attila Somfalvi in Yedioth Ahronoth.
Avigdor Lieberman also turned up on many lists of "winners." His ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party won more seats than the right-wing Likud, attracting broad support from Israel's 700,000 Russian-speaking immigrants.
Of course, that would also put Likud in general – and leader Benjamin Netanyahu in particular – firmly in the "losers" camp. The party of Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and, until November 2005, Ariel Sharon, lost two-thirds of its seats. But some analysts said Israeli politics are too volatile and unpredictable to write obituaries about the right wing.
The record low turnout of 63 per cent had many analysts saying voters were kept away by the apparent inevitability of a Kadima victory or were turned off by corruption scandals and politicians' party-switching.