Electionscape: Resurrecting icons [pg. 4]

On the last night of election broadcasts, the major parties admitted what all the voters have realized long ago: there's no living leader that anyone feels like voting for. So they had no choice but to bring out their dead. Labor tried to remind us that Yitzhak Rabin was once its leader; Likud went even further back in time with black-and-white footage of Menachem Begin. There is nothing new about Kadima's morgue campaign, as it's been claiming ownership over Theodor Herzl, David Ben-Gurion, Begin and Rabin more or less since the party's inception (and, of course, there's the ultimate icon - not dead, but out of the picture - Ariel Sharon). Oh, and I almost forgot Shas, which has been dragging the corpse of Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri all over its campaign trail. What does it tell us about these elections, that all the parties had to show on the last night of the official campaign was the night of the living dead? The Likud has already owned up to the fact that Binyamin Netanyahu is more of a liability than an asset. Limor Livnat tried to convince former voters last week on an on-line chat that, "even if you're mad at Netanyahu, don't punish the Likud." Labor's main problem these elections has been how to market its unlikely leader. At the beginning, it tried to package Amir Peretz as a statesman, realized too late that it just didn't work, and only now is using his main advantage - his rapport with the common voter. I spent a day with Peretz last week walking the Jerusalem streets; if he had time to meet a million Israelis, by election day he would have it in the bag. Kadima is saddled with one of the least popular politicians in the business instead of Sharon. Most observers are convinced that, with the current leadership field, Kadima would have been confidently coasting to victory with over 50 Knesset seats were Arik still around. Instead, with Olmert, it's been hemorrhaging votes for weeks. Kadima is still in the lead, but against this competition that doesn't seem much of an achievement. When even the political parties can't get excited by the leaders they're offering us, it is no wonder the polls are predicting the lowest turnout in the country's history. Israel's next leader will be prime minister by default. The television channels are trying to turn us on with pyrotechnic gimmicks, open-air video screens and transparent studios, but they too realize that viewers have very little interest in the results. Perhaps there is a silver lining to this gray cloud. For the first time, Israel will have a low-expectations prime minister: someone for whom even those who voted did so with gritted teeth - not by choice, but for lack of one. All our next prime minister - probably Ehud Olmert - can do is pleasantly surprise us.