Analysis: A protest against the big parties

Rather than gloat over the results, Livni, Barak and Netanyahu should be afraid. Very, very afraid.

Barak 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Barak 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The leaders of Kadima, Labor, and to a lesser extent the Likud, each rushed to claim victory in Tuesday's municipal races as soon as the final votes were counted. Labor chairman Ehud Barak called all of his party's mayors to congratulate them from his office at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. Kadima leader Tzipi Livni did the same on her way from JFK International Airport to the United Nations in New York. But rather than gloat over the results, Livni, Barak and Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu should be afraid. Very, very afraid. The reason that the leaders of the three largest parties should be holding back on their self-aggrandizement is that none of their parties was the big winner on Tuesday. That winner was the "Protest Party," whatever it happened to be called in each city. Trends continued in this election of mayors running away from national party labels because they could only do damage, preferring instead to run under the banners of local lists with names like Ron Huldai's Tel Aviv One. All three large parties were shut out or close to it in city councils from Jerusalem to Kiryat Shmona. Mayoral candidates did, however, court the money of parties who dished it out to claim afterward that they supported the winning horse. So Labor declared victory in Beersheba, even though Rubik Danilovich shunned the party's Emet Party voting slip and the Likud took pride in new Ashdod mayor Yehiel Lasri, who decided against running with the Likud's Mahal slip. Danilovich and Lasri won because they were fresh faces. Their victories came in spite of Labor and Likud, just like the membership in Kadima of the veteran mayors they unseated, Ya'acov Turner and Zvi Zilker, had nothing to do with their losses. They lost because people were angry and they were looking for someone to blame. Incumbent mayors just happened to be the first ones in the line of fire. Had the Knesset race been held before the municipal election, a move the Likud tried and failed to implement, it would have been veteran MKs going home after 20 years of service instead of longtime mayors. The parties looked at the municipal races as a bellwether for the February 10 general election, just like American parties look at mid-term congressional races. The problem is that unlike in America, the parties will not have two years to learn lessons and recover. The Knesset race is less than three months away and all three large parties predicted that their victories on the municipal level would give them a boost for the real battle ahead. If Tuesday's results are any indication, it's not Kadima, Labor or Likud that has momentum but the Green Party. Not only did the environmentalist party elect more than 50 city councilmen nationwide on Tuesday, it has the advantage of running in the Knesset race from outside the Knesset, exempting it from the wrath of the seething public. But it could just as easily be some other new party that comes from nowhere straight into the plenum, like the Gil Pensioners Party did in 2006. Only on February 11 will it be clear whether the public had sufficiently vented its anger on Tuesday, or whether the Protest Party will be the big winner again.•