polling station 88.
The last time The Jerusalem Post compiled a primer on all the major political parties, Ariel Sharon was still prime minister, Shinui was united, the religious Zionist parties were divided and Hamas's landslide victory was still seen as a worst-case scenario.
And that was a mere seven weeks ago.
Now, there are seven weeks left to go before the March 28 election, and if the next seven weeks prove as eventful as the last seven, this election season will be remembered as one of Israel's most action-packed.
This week alone, the cabinet decided to transfer money to the Palestinian Authority, despite Hamas's victory; Ehud Olmert hinted to the possibility of another unilateral withdrawal in his first interview since he became acting prime minister; the Knesset formed a commission of inquiry to investigate the violence in the Amona outpost; and Likud and Labor started new campaigns accusing Olmert of being a serial mistake-maker who is weak, inexperienced and corrupt.
Thursday night's deadline for the parties to submit their final lists of candidates sealed the first stage of the election. Now that all the parties have sorted out their internal issues, the election is expected to intensify, with the climax coming in the last three weeks of the race when the election commercials will be televised on a nightly basis.
To help readers understand the political puzzle, here is a guide to the latest news in the political parties and their chances for success on Election Day. (A list of each party's candidates can be found on Page 8 in today's paper.)
Sharon is still hospitalized and he will not be able to run even if he partially recovers. Olmert stepped into his shoes and pledged to continue on his path. Former prime minister Shimon Peres found his way into the party's second slot. Olmert drew up a list that includes six former generals, six immigrants from the former Soviet Union, four Orthodox candidates, seven academics and two residents of Judea and Samaria.
Seven weeks ago, it was said in these pages that "Kadima's potential for success is unlimited as long as Sharon's appetite for food and its other leaders' appetite for power is limited."
Despite Sharon's departure, the party's support has not dropped significantly, but Olmert's approval-rating is falling and Kadima's polling numbers will likely follow.
Current MKs: 14
Poll position: 38-45
The most significant change in Labor is the one that didn't happen. Labor chairman Amir Peretz did not succumb to pressure to give a slot to immensely unpopular former prime minister Ehud Barak. The second, third and fourth slots were won by young MKs Isaac Herzog and Ophir Paz-Pines and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev president Avishay Braverman, who will all likely battle Barak for the Labor leadership if, as expected, the party fares poorly under Peretz.
Peretz has not succeeded in steering the election to the socioeconomic issues where he has an advantage. Last weekend, a poll showed for the first time that Likud has passed Labor for second place. Labor needs a dramatic turnaround, or the party could finish in third place for the first time ever.
Current MKs: 21
Poll position: 16-22
The Likud central committee elected a list that promoted first-time MKs Moshe Kahlon, Gilad Erdan and Gideon Sa'ar at the expense of former ministers Dan Naveh, Limor Livnat and Yisrael Katz. Former Shinui MKs Eliezer Sandberg and Hemi Doron joined the party, but they will not be candidates in this election.
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu's approval-rating is rising and so are the Likud's numbers in the polls. The party is still far from posing a threat to Kadima, but if Netanyahu succeeds in winning 20 seats on Election Day, it will be hard for his political opponents in the party to overthrow him.
Current MKs: 29
Poll position: 13-18
The party's top five will be the same as last time, except that the Yossi at the top of the list will be Beilin instead of Sarid. Haredi author Tzvia Greenfield was elected to the sixth slot, but it is doubtful that she will bring Meretz votes from United Torah Judaism. MK Roman Bronfman decided not to run in this election.
The party failed to gain significant votes from the collapse of Shinui, and with Labor turning leftward, polls have shown that Meretz might have trouble passing the voter threshold. The party wisely started fighting back on Thursday, with a new ad that accuses Labor of not being left-wing enough.
Current MKs: 6
Poll position: 3-6
National Union/Religious Party
Following weeks of infighting and pressure to unite, the two parties agreed on Thursday to run together in the election, with six National Union MKs and four NRP candidates in the top 10.
"We didn't want to be weak people who would be told 'I told you so,'" said joint list chairman Benny Elon. "When we are divided, we don't have power and when we are united, we do."
The reporters in the audience snickered when National Union MK Effi Eitam said in a press conference on Thursday that the joint list would "replace the Likud."
NRP chairman Zevulun Orlev said he believed that 99 percent of religious-Zionists would feel comfortable supporting the list. The first poll after the deal will not be taken until next week. Only then will it be clear whether the gamble paid off, and whether the Likud should start worrying.
Current MKs: 10
Poll position: The last polls taken before Thursday's union predicted that the National Union would win four to six seats, and that the NRP wouldn't pass the voter threshold. Together, the parties' polls say they would win at least 14 seats. Anglo candidate Uri Bank is 16th on the joint list.
Shinui and the Secular-Zionist Party
Shinui's 15 broke off into nine in Avraham Poraz's new Secular-Zionist Party, three in the original Shinui, two in Likud and one in Yisrael Beiteinu. Retiring Shinui chairman Yosef Lapid and faction chairman Reshef Cheyne were placed in the symbolic 60th and 61st positions on the Secular-Zionist list.
It is extremely unlikely that either of these two parties will pass the voter threshold, or that any of the original 15 Shinui MKs will be in the next Knesset. The party that seriously contended with Labor for second place in the last election will be remembered for its meteoric rise and its even faster demise.
Current MKs: 12
Poll position: 0
The second and third slots were given to two Kohanim, MKs Yitzhak and Amnon Cohen. Rising star Ariel Attias was placed in the fifth slot and the indicted Shlomo Benizri in the sixth. Shas chairman Eli Yishai broke a promise to give Ethiopian candidate Mazor Benaya a realistic slot and placed him 13th.
The polls have shown that Benizri's indictment didn't hurt the party. Shas is banking on finishing fourth in the race, which could make the party the largest coalition partner and return Yishai to the Interior Ministry. Former Shas chairman Arye Deri caused damage when he said he could have won 15 seats. To be successful in this race, Shas needs Deri to be seen but not heard.
Current MKs: 11
Poll position: 8-12
Smaller Parties: Tafnit, Green Leaf, Jewish National Front, Herut and others.
Former IDF deputy chief of general staff Uzi Dayan held talks with Barak and Shinui MKs about joining Tafnit. Former MK Michael Kleiner's Herut tried to enlist Likud MK Michael Ratzon. Baruch Marzel offered the top slot in his Jewish National Front to the Likud's Moshe Feiglin. But none of these moves came to fruition.
Tafnit officials will be upset that they were grouped together with this ragtag bunch of parties, but there hasn't been a poll yet that predicted that they could obtain the nearly 80,000 votes necessary to enter the next Knesset. The only small party that has a chance is the Green Leaf party, which could benefit from Kadima's decision to be represented on the ballot by the Hebrew letters Kaf Nun, which could be confused with Green Leaf's Kuf Nun.
Current MKs: 0
Poll position: 0
United Arab List, Hadash and Balad
There were attempts to have all the Arab parties unite into one. Instead, the only deals were between UAL and MK Ahmed Tibi and former MK Mohammed Kanaan. and between Hadash and former MKs Hashem Mahameed.
The Arab parties' failure to unite could result in at least one of the three parties not passing the voter threshold, which was raised to a minimum of nearly 80,000 votes.
Hadash was the only one of the three that received that many votes in the last election. If the number of Arab MKs in the next Knesset drops significantly, it could cause a crisis among Israeli Arabs.
Current MKs: 8
Poll position: The polls don't differentiate between the different Arab parties.
United Torah Judaism
The faction's current five MKs were given the top five slots. Former MK Yisrael Eichler of UTJ's Agudat Yisrael party was only given the sixth slot in a rotation with the Degel Hatorah Party, which means that if UTJ wins six seats, he will have to quit after two years to make way for Jerusalem deputy mayor Uri Maklev of Degel.
As long as Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox women continue to have many children, UTJ will continue to get more votes every election.
Current MKs: 5
Poll position: 5-7
Avigdor Lieberman's party received a boost from the additions of three candidates with careers in security: Former Shin-Bet deputy head Yisrael Hason, IDF major (res.) Estherina Tartman and former police deputy inspector-general Yitzhak Aharonovich. Tartman has a higher army rank than any of the top 32 Likud candidates.
Lieberman believes that his party will be the surprise of the election, like Shinui in 2003. Using the slogan, "nyet, nyet, da" (no, no, yes in Russian), he will try to persuade Russian immigrant voters to back him instead of Kadima or Likud. Lieberman's platform of drawing Israel's border in a way that will minimize the number of Arabs in the Jewish state could attract support from many native-born Likud and National Union supporters. It is unclear how Yisrael Beiteinu will be affected by the decision of its former partner, the National Union, to run together with the NRP.
Current MKs: 3
Poll position: 5-8
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