Peretz pushes socio-economic platform

Labor uses flowers to attract TA voters; polls predict as many as 22 seats.

elections06.article.298 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Even the red carnations that Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz presented to the pedestrians on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Avenue on Monday referred to the socio-economic message that has been the mainstay of his campaign. "My revolution will make the improvement of humanitarian issues a top priority. Like these carnations, a revolution takes only one day, just one day, to bloom," Peretz told the buoyant crowd of supporters that gathered one day ahead of the election. Peretz said that he had chosen carnations because he himself had grown them in his garden and understood the cycle of the flowers. The carnations, which took months to grow, would show no signs of budding until suddenly, seemingly overnight, a flower would bloom, said Peretz. "He is an eternal optimist," said one veteran party candidate. "He has been at the helm of the campaign and fought others who said that a socio-economic platform would never become popular with Israelis. He still believes in his revolution." Although Labor has begun to rise in the polls to as many as 22 mandates, few believe that it will be possible for Peretz to defeat Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose party has consistently polled at more than 33. Peretz spent his final day of campaigning attempting to engage undecided voters in the intense, personal conversations that have characterized his two-week whistle-stop tour. His message echoed the one sounded during his first days of campaigning - a raised minimum wage, mandatory pensions and a broader health basket. "Our greatest success is that we have stayed on topic," said MK Isaac Herzog, the No. 2 candidate on the party list. "Our message was direct and spoke to the socio-economic issues ignored by the others." Several veteran party members, however, called Peretz's message the right platform at the wrong time. "There is a time and place for improving humanitarian conditions in Israel, and that time and place is once peace has been established," said Shai Moravi, who has voted Labor for the past two elections but said he would vote for Kadima on Tuesday. "I like Peretz better than the Kadima options for the Knesset... but he just didn't convince me that he was strong enough on defense." Following accusations that he did not have a strong defense background, especially following the Hamas victory in the Palestinian legislative elections, Peretz shifted Labor's campaign slogan to "Fighting Terror - Defeating Poverty," a message meant to link the war on terror to a stronger economy. The message, however, did not seem to take with voters, who continued to complain that Peretz did not fit the mold of "general-hero" that they had come to expect in their prime ministers. "Peretz may be a man ahead of his time," said one Likud MK, who asked not to be named. "Voters, however, still want the man who will protect them when the terrorists try to attack. They will still vote for their safety over their minimum wage." Shas, which has long billed itself as a party concerned with social reforms, also attacked Labor's message as being "too little, too late." "They can't expect to suddenly come in and convince the country that they will improve their social conditions," said a Shas official. Behind closed doors, however, Peretz has promised that he was already fighting his next campaign. The platform and promises of this campaign were meant to be the launching-pad for a message he intends to build in Israel as he establishes himself as a front-runner in the Israeli political system, said aides close to Peretz. "Whatever happens tomorrow, however many mandates we receive, our win is ideological," said Peretz. "The basis for our plans for the next government are humanitarian. We hope to pass a package of humanitarian laws... These are our demands for the formation of the next government." In the final 24 hours before the elections, it did not appear that Labor would be forming the next government. The knives, however, of most of the party members rumored to be vying to displace Peretz have remained firmly sheathed. "There is a general feeling that despite some mistakes and shortcomings he has done well," said a Labor spokesman. "If we had two more months we would have beaten Olmert."