Between Caesarea and Givat Olga

Chances are also that someone will once again win an unpredicted windfall, the way Lapid did last time and the Pensioners Party did in 2006.

March 17, 2015 06:29
3 minute read.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Moshe Kahlon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [File]. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

In what has become one of the most unpredictable elections ever seen here, one victor can already be crowned: the economy.

“Families here were big and salaries were small,” reminisced several years ago an elderly woman from Givat Olga, for decades the slummy backyard of Hadera.

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Having arrived there with her husband from Libya, the couple and their six children followed Menachem Begin, who spent his first political decades collecting Israel’s downtrodden.

Now, one of those six children, Moshe Kahlon, is widely predicted to emerge from the election as finance minister, following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow Sunday to a mass rally in Tel Aviv that, if victorious, he will appoint Kahlon finance minister.

That vow may or may not be relevant Wednesday, but it is a grudging concession that Kahlon, who is widely expected to emerge as the next coalition’s kingmaker, defined this election’s main issue – namely, the cost of living, from housing and tuition to food and banking fees.

Chances are high that this election’s result will be inconclusive, possibly resulting in a unity government that will try to change the system so that Likud and Labor restore their political dominance at the expense of midsized parties like Kahlon’s. This prospect becomes particularly realistic with Tzipi Livni’s abandonment of her demand to rotate the premiership with her Zionist Union running mate, Isaac Herzog.

Yet, even so, whoever ends up ruling will have to launch an ambitious economic plan, as that is what voters demanded throughout this campaign. That is why the economy is this election’s first winner. Other possible winners are the turnout and the threshold.

During its first half-century Israel had one of the world’s highest voting rates, some 80 percent of eligible voters.

Since 1999, however, it has been sliding, plunging in 2006 to a historic low of 63%, from which it then climbed to 67%. Today, the turnout may rise further, as polls suggest first-time voters will show up in larger numbers. In addition, Arab voters, whose turnout has generally been about 10% lower than the national average, now may vote in larger numbers due the Arab parties’ unification.

The new threshold, effectively requiring parties to win a minimum of four seats, might emerge as this election’s dark horse, as some of the Knesset’s fixtures – namely, Meretz, Avigdor Liberman and Eli Yishai – may not make it. Such a deletion, should it transpire, will rock the rest of the system, since an unelected party’s votes are discarded.

Chances are also that someone will once again win an unpredicted windfall, the way Lapid did last time and the Pensioners Party did in 2006.

Potential losers are, of course, leaders of the big parties but particularly Netanyahu, who called this election of his own volition without even consulting his own party.

Any result that does not improve his political position compared with the one he abandoned in December will render him a loser.

For his opponent, Herzog, the emergence of a narrow right-wing coalition, which is Netanyahu’s overall strategic aim, would mean major failure.

Among the parties, one loser might be Bayit Yehudi, whose high hopes to break its historic high of 12 mandates might be dashed along with its strategic aim to attract a broad, non-Orthodox electorate.

Another loser might be Yesh Atid, for which retaining two-thirds of its current seats would be an achievement.

Yet the biggest loser might be the Likud, whose historic coalition of nationalists, proletarians, populists and capitalists of religious, secular, European and Middle Eastern backgrounds has been eroding steadily since peaking in 1983 at 48 mandates.

After having first lost working-class constituents to Shas, then Russian-speakers to Liberman, modern-Orthodox voters to Naftali Bennett and upper-middle-class voters to Lapid, the Likud now stands to lose a lower-middle-class electorate to Kahlon – the quintessential Likudnik who hailed from humble Givat Olga, eight kilometers and one social light-year from posh Caesarea, whose short list of residents includes one Benjamin Netanyahu.

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