Strategic voting

Kadima will likely win. The question now is who its coalition partners will be?

olmert and bibi 88 (photo credit: )
olmert and bibi 88
(photo credit: )
A cartoon in one of the Hebrew dailies last week said it all. It showed a winded, wheezing Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert leading a cohort of worn-out security men and their dogs on one of his early-morning constitutionals. The group is whining: "Hey! We've won. Can't we stop now?" A fortnight before election day it seems that Olmert's Kadima will indeed emerge from the March 28 election as the largest party by far and the one that at least 61 MKs would recommend to President Moshe Katsav to entrust with the formation of the next government. It would take a miracle of biblical proportions at this late stage of the campaign for some other party except Kadima to be the clear victor on election day. YET ONE of the stranger aspects of Israeli politics now is that none of the party leaders - of Kadima, Labor or the Likud - are entirely sure of their respective positions. In Kadima, which was nailed together by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon before his stroke, there are a number of personalities who command greater respect than Olmert. If Olmert, as the head of Kadima, "wins" with a plurality of between 35 and 40, the fluke he pulled off of becoming Sharon's "obvious" successor (by simply being at the right place at the right time) will be solidified by the persona of being an election winner. A Kadima victory closer to 30 seats would still count as a "victory" for Kadima, but not necessarily for Olmert. At which point we could expect a revolt against Olmert from within Kadima, led by one of its other top personalities. The situation in Labor is even more fraught with unknowns. The rule of thumb that is being applied to party chairman Amir Peretz is that any electoral result less than the combined Labor and Am Ehad contingents in the outgoing Knesset (19 plus 3, or 22) would be considered a stinging defeat. His success as the new party leader will depend on Labor's electoral performance and even more on his own performance in the negotiations for setting up a coalition government with Kadima. ALL SUCH negotiations involve trade-offs. For example, Labor could demand a relatively large number of ministerial positions. In such a case, Olmert could agree to the number, but at the cost of denying Labor any of the major ministries: Defense, Foreign Affairs, Finance and Education. The outcome of the actual negotiations would depend to a large extent on the power inside the respective parties of the candidates for these positions. The most interesting aspect of any negotiations between Kadima and Labor would be what to offer Peretz himself. There are a number of people on Labor's list who overshadow Peretz. If he can lead Labor to a "victory" from the high 20s and up he could overcome that disadvantage. Imagine, if you will, Kadima offering Labor the Treasury. World-renowned economist Avishay Braverman would be the obvious candidate - but what to offer Peretz in such a situation? If Labor wins fewer than 22 seats it would lose its ability to profoundly influence either the Palestinian issue or the socioeconomic sphere, and that would invite a repetition of how Labor rid itself of the spent meteor Amram Mitzna in the outgoing Knesset. In the Likud there is widespread agreement that if the party does not emerge with at least 20 seats, party leader Binyamin Netanyahu, who after his previous defeat seemed ready to abandon politics altogether "to spend more time with his family," would be forced to resign. Olmert's determination not to negotiate with the Likud as long as it is headed by Netanyahu might serve as a catalyst for such a removal. All these issues are being dealt with, quietly, by political activists in all the parties. The various scenarios could, meanwhile, also serve as guides for a large part of the electorate who would like to see a Kadima government, but not Kadima or Olmert left to their own devices. At this stage a Kadima victory is unavoidable. For some people, the best way to influence its policies would be to vote for one of its sure-fire coalition partners. I, personally, would vote for Labor if Peretz could bring himself to declare openly that he would give preference to his party's interests over his own in negotiating the next coalition government.