Elections ahead

Regardless of its outcome, a few encouraging things can be said about the impending election.

amir peretz 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
amir peretz 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Regardless of its outcome, a few encouraging things can already be said about the impending general election. First, by the time it is replaced in some four months, the current Knesset will have served just over three years. While far from the ideal, four-year life span originally intended for Knesset's, the 16th Knesset's term in office defied assessments last decade that our already notoriously unstable political system is only going to become more unstable. Secondly, the circumstances leading to this early election are not about machinations and manipulations, but about real issues that genuinely and legitimately divide the public and its representatives, and as such should be contested at the polls. And lastly, the issues themselves are, for the first time in some two generations, dominated by domestic dilemmas rather foreign and military affairs. Between 1981 and 2003, elections repeatedly produced Knessets almost evenly divided between Right and Left. The result was chronic uncertainty and blackmail that often made it impossible to effectively govern. In 2003 that pattern was finally broken when, for the first time since 1977, the voters finally handed a decisive victory to one political bloc. It was largely thanks to this that the outgoing government could bring about ambitious reforms in a broad range of fields, from pensions to the educational system. At the same time, its disengagement plan proved disagreeable to many within the prime minister's own party, who in turn consistently hammered at their own leader's government. Regardless of whether one backs or rejects the ideology that motivated that behavior, the very failure to keep intact a hard-earned, sizable Knesset faction must foster a debate concerning the inherent instability demonstrated by the political system, even after its fortunate success in producing a three-year Knesset. Eventually, the outgoing Knesset was given its kiss of death by the Labor Party's new leader, whose eagerness to seize and redefine the national agenda has made him immediately announce Labor's departure from the coalition. Compared with the pretexts that had previously led to the Knesset's premature dissolutions, which were frequently touched off by small parties and over marginal issues, the current situation is politically healthy. As long as a Knesset dissolves prematurely, it might as well be the doing of a major party and in the name of weighty issues. Labor chairman Amir Peretz and former finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu already have, over the past three years, engaged in a long-overdue debate concerning the creation and distribution of national resources. It is only natural and desirable that the debate now be joined by the voters, who will be asked for a change not what they think about Israel's desired borders, but what they think about desired tax rates and public spending. Similarly, the voters will have a chance to either back or reject reforms led by the outgoing government, including the Dovrat plan for the school system, the abolition of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the raising of pension ages and selling of pension funds, the capping of public-sector hiring or the sell-offs of Bezeq, El Al and the Leumi and Discount banks. The predominance of the economy in this election's agenda will not shut out two other pertinent issues: disengagement and corruption. While disengagement may seem to be old news to many, to many others it remains an open wound and a lifelong trauma. For them, this election will offer an opportunity to win an increased following that will make future governments avoid further evacuations. Conversely, should they fail to emerge from the electoral margins, they will have to resign themselves to the conclusion that their cause does not enjoy majority support. Finally, on the corruption front, Ariel Sharon will effectively be asking the electorate to believe that his son's conviction, for the methods to which he resorted in helping his father get elected, still leaves the prime minister politically clean. We hope, in light of the general mistrust of the political system, that the candidates will use this opportunity to give us an honest picture of the policies they will follow if elected. The electorate, after all, has many crucial choices to make and deserves to be given the tools to make them.