The wrong fringe

Why is a fringe party like Green Leaf getting more support than parties with more serious agendas?

March 13, 2006 22:39
3 minute read.
The wrong fringe

marijuana leaf 88. (photo credit: )

As three parties spar for the top spot, there is another race going on at the bottom of, or off, the charts. At least six parties are struggling to reach the new 2 percent minimum necessary to be represented in the Knesset, which would probably translate into a minimum of three Knesset seats. Of these six (there are many more that have little chance of coming close to the minimum), the party that polling organizations claim has the greatest chance of breaking the barrier is the Green Leaf party. The other five are Tafnit, the Green Party, the two remnants of Shinui, and Baruch Marzel (Jewish National Front).

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The pollsters themselves admit that the polls are the greatest enemy of small parties. Most voters are loath to waste their vote on a party that is expected to fall short of the electoral threshold, so a polling result of "zero" seats becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, the trend has been to raise the electoral threshold - most recently from 1.5% to 2% in the current election - precisely to eliminate some of the smallest parties from the Knesset and force some measure of political consolidation. There is a strong argument to raise the threshold even further, so that the minimum size of a Knesset party would rise to about five seats. That said, what is disturbing about the current batch of mini-parties is which one among them seems to be doing the best: Green Leaf. The "green leaf" in the party's name is that of the marijuana plant, which the party hopes to legalize. Most recently, the party received some attention when it announced that it favored negotiating with Hamas without conditions. But the leader of the party, Boaz Wachtal, described best his voters main concern: "The common denominator is the love of cannabis." In reality, Green Leaf may be underrepresented in the polls, which are generally taken by way of a home phone line, since many younger voters have taken to using only cell phones. It is, of course, neither a tragedy nor unexpected that there is a small disaffected fringe in our society, as in almost any other, that is attracted by an anti-establishment party - the more rebellious the better. A political system that has a party for almost everything might as well have a party like Green Leaf, which, ironically, might include some people in the system who would not have been voting at all. Nor is the issue that this particular party is taking a position that obviously would increase the amount of drug use and most of the associated harm that drugs cause. There is no shortage of parties advocating policies that many voters, not to mention this newspaper, would disagree with. Our concern, rather, is that a fringe party like Green Leaf seems to be receiving more support than parties that represent much more serious agendas, even if there are understandable reasons why they have not broken through to the level of electoral viability. Tafnit, for example, led by former general Uzi Dayan, has been campaigning for some things that are represented in other parties, such as building a separation fence and withdrawing behind it, and for shifting budget priorities toward the educational and social arenas. But he is also making some concrete anti-corruption proposals that the other parties have yet to pick up, such as partially removing Knesset immunity, mandatory sentences in certain cases, and a blanket prohibition on elected officials exercising the "right to remain silent" in the face of legal accusations. The Green Party, which has already repeatedly succeeded in electing representatives to the Tel Aviv City Council, also represents a real agenda that has largely escaped mainstream attention. While there is a tendency for environmental parties to take extreme positions that are inconsistent even with sensible development, we are a country where the opposite is more often the case: Development that does not adequately take environmental concerns into account. In any case, the country needs more vigorous debate over environmental issues. One might think that, at least such issues would be given more weight by more people than say, legalizing marijuana. Regardless of how these parties fare, the issues they represent need not disappear. The best outcome for some small parties may be that they become obsolete because the issues they represent have become part of the agendas of the larger parties.

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