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With the results of the Likud's and Labor's primary elections of their respective candidates' lists for the Knesset already in, and the makeup of the newcomer Kadima party pretty certain, we can turn our attention to the final and main phase of the March 28 elections, only nine weeks away.
To be sure, we cannot yet predict the exact outcome. But some of the major outlines of the results and some personal ones containing an element of poetic justice, are already quite clear.
Whether Labor or Likud come in second or third behind the Kadima frontrunners, it seems quite certain that the attempts of former prime ministers Binyamin Netanyahu of the Likud and Ehud Barak of Labor to regain a claim on the country's top leadership will have been roundly rejected.
What the two share is the hutzpa of seeking the country's top leadership once more after abandoning the political scene altogether to advance their respective personal economic fortunes following the trouncing of their parties: the Likud after one truncated term under Netanyahu in 1999, and Labor after one similarly shortened term under Barak in 2001.
Barak did not even deign to run in the Labor primaries this time, on the assumption that new party leader Amir Peretz, who lacks any background or expertise in the all-important security field, would be forced to coopt him to a top spot in Labor's list as the only possible candidate for the defense portfolio in a Kadima-Labor coalition. Peretz has rejected such feelers because Labor does not lack for ex-IDF generals as possible defense ministers and because Barak would pose too much of a personal challenge to Peretz's leadership of the party.
In the meantime, Barak enjoys cashing in on his status of former prime minister so much that he is sure to continue enriching himself in the international business field rather than serving as a minor minister in the next government; or, worse yet, a backbencher in the opposition.
Netanyahu is another kettle of fish. He won the leadership of the Likud fair and square, but stands no chance of winning the election or joining a Kadima coalition. The likelihood is very high that a Netanyahu at the head of a truncated Likud will either choose again to abandon politics for continued personal enrichment in the private sector, as he did after his 1999 defeat, or lose out in the ferocious internal power struggle that will break out in the Likud following its expected defeat under his leadership.
GIVEN THE broader and consistent finding of the various public opinion polls, it is already possible to name the 80 to 90 certain MKs in the new Knesset. They would include the top 30 candidates in Kadima, the first 15 to 20 candidates in Labor and the Likud, and the leading candidates in the slew of smaller right-wing religious and Arab parties. That would be in keeping with the turnover proportion emerging from previous Knesset elections, in which 30-40 freshmen candidates were elected.
In another country and political system that rate of turnover from one election to another could have been expected to lead to reforms in the functioning of the Knesset itself. Instead, the outgoing Knesset has been the most corrupt and least effective in Israel's short political history. The best that could be said about it is that the only way out of rock bottom is up.
One can only hope that some of the impressive candidates elected on their parties' slates will take reform of the Knesset and restoration of its public image as a personal goal equal to winning a cabinet seat in a mid-level ministry.
AT THIS early date I would single out the name of one candidate as harbinger of an important change one can expect in the social policies of the next government: Gideon Ben-Israel of Labor, who emerged from his party primaries as a sure winner. Ben-Israel was a Labor MK in the late 1970s and 1980s. During Labor's sojourn in the political wilderness during most of the past 25 years, Ben-Israel, who is in his 80s, left national politics to head the Histadrut-affiliated Pensioners Union.
There have been several attempts in recent Knesset elections to run separate pensioners parties. All failed to pass the threshold for the allocation of a seat in the Knesset. If Labor does become a main partner in a Kadima-led coalition, there is a good chance that the country's growing number of pensioners will, through Ben-Israel and for the first time ever, win control over government and Knesset levers of power concerning their interests - which were among the main victims of Netanyahu's draconian economic policy.
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