Are we in for early elections?

It looks like no matter who heads the government, there is a serious problem of governability, which is largely the result of the political fragmentation.

By
August 17, 2011 22:30
4 minute read.
Susan Hattis Rolef

Susan Hattis Rolef 58 USE THIS. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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The categorical answer to the question of whether we are in for early elections is: no.

On the face of it, there are many reasons that early elections seem pertinent.

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The popularity of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is lower than ever – recently less than 33 percent of the population expressed satisfaction with him, compared to over 50% in December 2010.

The social protest movement, even though it does not include large sections of the population that have good reason to be dissatisfied, indicates that there is a desire for major changes in the government’s socioeconomic approach. The fact that at the end of July, over 85% of the population expressed sympathy for the protest is certainly a sign of some deep-seated dissatisfaction.

The financial difficulties of the so-called tycoons indicate that while it is in nobody’s interest to see any of them going bankrupt, there is an urgent need to prevent clever financiers from turning into billionaires by means of leveraged loans that enable them to construct ownership pyramids, which place excessive power in their hands and are liable to collapse at any moment like a castle of cards, pulling all of us down with them.

The complicated situation that Israel faces internationally, with which the government is dealing primarily by means of a not-so-effective hasbara (public diplomacy) effort, and contingency plans to confront a possible outbreak of Palestinian violence in September, is also cause for great concern within wide sections of the populationthat believe Israel should initiate – not just react.

THE MAIN reason that, despite all of these fateful events, we shall not have early elections is that there is no majority in the Knesset to call for such elections.



Within the current coalition, Netanyahu certainly does not want them with his personal popularity so low. Eli Yishai – the political leader of Shas – has other concerns.

One of them is former MK Arye Deri, who is preparing a return to active politics by either replacing Yishai at the head of Shas, or heading a new political movement. Either way, Yishai will be the main victim. As for Avigdor Lieberman, who stands to gain the most from any weakening of the Likud, he confronts a complicated legal situation, and it is not at all clear whether he will be able to stand at the head of Israel Beiteinu in the next general elections.

In the opposition as well, not everyone is interested in early elections. Though Kadima is a boisterous critic of Netanyahu and his government, its fate in the next elections is unclear. The most recent opinion polls show the party’s public support remaining more or less unchanged since the last general election, but this is before one takes into account the possibility that toward the next one, a new version of Shinui might emerge and take voters away from Kadima.

Labor is currently trying to get its act together and will certainly need time to reorganize under a new leader, and it will try to capitalize on the current protest movement.

But even if there were a majority in the Knesset for early elections, from a national point of view this is not desirable. The last Knesset to serve close to a full term was the 13th (1992-96). It looks like no matter who heads the government, there is a serious problem of governability, which is largely the result of the political fragmentation, which in turn is the result of an extremely fragmented society, and proportional representation. Unless the electoral system is changed, we shall continue to live in a situation where plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Frequent elections solve nothing.

EVEN THOUGH I do not support the current coalition, I believe it should be allowed to continue struggling on. Perhaps some issues will be addressed. Perhaps something will come, after all, of the team led by Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg. Perhaps something will come of the committee dealing with the problem of concentration in the economy (i.e., the tycoons’ pyramids).

Let us see what actually happens in September, and how the Middle East will emerge from the current political turmoil.

I believe that Israel should actively promote a settlement with the Palestinians, and stop creating facts on the terrain that disturb the attainment of such a settlement.

But until the regional situation gels, little can really be achieved.

In the meantime, anyone who believes he has an alternative to offer – let him start preparing to present this alternative to the public, not on a wave of momentary euphoria (or alternatively, political hysteria) resulting from impressive demonstrations, but on solid political ground. I believe an alternative exists – but that early elections are not the way to bring it about.

The writer is a former Knesset employee.

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