Pensioners leaders fight until the end despite slim support

For Pensioners' Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan and Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri, election day 2009 was fairly lackluster affair compared to the fanfare that surrounded their Gil Pensioner's party in 2006. Back then, the almost unknown party and its band of elderly candidates captured the hearts of the nation, earning a shocking seven seats in the 17th Knesset. On that election day, party members were trailed by a pack of intrigued journalists and greeted by jubilant fans - young and old - that had bought into the party's social welfare-focused platform. On Tuesday, however, the two ministers, who traveled together through central Tel Aviv and some of the surrounding towns, were under no illusions that their party would retain its strength in the next Knesset. "It's been very difficult for the smaller parties during this campaign period," Ben-Yizri admitted to The Jerusalem Post, hours before the election results were known. "Issues of war, state security and the economy have meant that all the attention is on the four large parties - Likud, Labor, Kadima and Lieberman [Israel Beitenu]. The smaller parties have been pushed to the side." However, both Ben-Yizri and Eitan, who claim that their efforts to improve the quality of life for Israel's senior population have been successful, remained upbeat. At the Golda and Yehuda Zucker Senior Citizens Day Center in downtown Tel Aviv - an area where a large number of pensioners reside - Eitan told the Post that support for his party and its issues was still strong. "There is less emphasis on social issues this time around, but just the fact that people are considering voting for us is a good thing," he said, adding that media attention to their platform in the days before the last election helped boost support. "There are still some young people who have voted for us," said Ben-Yizri. "They do it mostly out of sympathy for their parents and grandparents." Eitan added: "Over the past two years we have made excellent contacts with the student population, too. My own grandchildren not included, I believe many younger people will vote for us again." Both men emphasized that their goal was not to lead the country but rather to focus on a specific sector and ensure its rights are protected. "We are both over the age of 82," laughed Ben-Yizri. "We like to say that our future is behind us… we are not looking to be the leaders, just to make sure that the pensioners are represented in the government." One 75-year-old woman, who was voting at the polling station when Ben-Yizri and Eitan were campaigning, said that after meeting the two she had decided to support them. "I believe they have made some improvements to the situation of elderly people in this country," the woman, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the Post after casting her ballot. "However, there is still so much that needs to be done." But another elderly voter, who also asked not to use his name, said the party was useless and that he had put his support elsewhere. "I didn't vote for them last time and did not this time either," he said. "It's a waste of a vote."