The Kadima race

Now that Kadima’s internecine conflict is out of the way, the party may be ready for a more constructive opposition role.

Tzipi Livni casts her Kadima primary vote in Tel Aviv 370 (photo credit: LAHAV HARKOV)
Tzipi Livni casts her Kadima primary vote in Tel Aviv 370
(photo credit: LAHAV HARKOV)
Kadima has just elected its new leader – Shaul Mofaz. It did so by an unequivocal and ostensibly unchallengeable majority (unlike the razorthin one last time around when Tzipi Livni beat Mofaz by a mere 431 votes amid charges of irregularities). Prima facie, so decisive a verdict looks like good news for the party. But is it?
Kadima generates more spin than did other overnight wonder-factions which streaked across our political firmament only to disappear into oblivion. This, perhaps, is because it was established by a serving premier (Ariel Sharon) who was orbited by diverse stars (even if very tarnished ones with unprecedented trails of legal imbroglios).
Despite its ostensible decline, Kadima features two former IDF chiefs-of-staff (Mofaz and Dan Halutz), an ex-foreign minister (Livni), three ex-finance ministers, former justice and health ministers, an ex-Shin-Bet chief, ex-Knesset speaker, to say nothing of a beleaguered ex-premier (Ehud Olmert).
Kadima’s coterie won one Knesset seat more than the Likud in the last elections. This enhanced the impression of a viable contender for national leadership. Thus Newsweek, evincing a remarkable disconnect from our reality, recently chose Livni as one of the world’s most influential women. The stinging slap Livni received underscored prevalent misapprehensions, particularly abroad.
Israelis are less surprised. Livni, despite her authoritative clipped cadences, came off increasingly as too acrimonious, testy and vindictive. Her criticism of the government – in any and all circumstances – was always personal, exuding ad hominem aversion toward Binyamin Netanyahu.
The party which promised the nation new politics looks sullied, embittered and stuck in the mud. The incredible gap by which Livni lost, having garnered only little over a third of the votes, disturbingly belies the hype of clean politics. If anything, it betokens an inability to shake off old-fashioned foul play.
Voter turnout for the primary was low – 41 percent of eligible party members. But in fact, it was even lower. The average was raised artificially by the curious phenomenon of as much as a 90% turnout in Arab and Druse communities. This is eerily reminiscent of the distortion which ate away at the Democratic Movement for Change, the first in a long list of trendy political hits which failed to sustain their astounding initial momentum.
Like Kadima now, the DMC back in 1977 was popular in the unlikeliest places. Implausibly, Arabic-speakers flocked en masse to its reformist cause, registered and secured eligibility to vote in its primaries. Druse octogenarians especially, appeared allured by the DMC message. In fact, though, they were Trojan horses. Their membership dues were paid by vote contractors, eager to sign on thousands of seeming supporters.
The seeds of the DMC’s demise were sown at its inception. Its primary participants didn’t vote for it in the general-election. The discrepancy indicated that although touted as incomparably democratic, the DMC’s internal processes were skewed beyond repair.
DMC-like shenanigans had since been replicated elsewhere, something which should encourage forthright reassessments. We need ponder just how much party primaries truly sound the vox populi and how far they’re cynically manipulated.
This is food for thought for Mofaz as well in his undeniable hour of triumph. How much, he should ask himself, is his victory the outcome of genuine attraction to his candidacy, how much to disenchantment from Livni and, most of all, given the suspicious turnout data, is his victory perhaps little more than oneupmanship in a small, shrinking constituency.
Mofaz and Livni slugged it out ferociously, each seeking to inherit the mantle of national leadership, but there just may not be all that much left to inherit. As Mofaz savors his win, he needs to recall that the roll of registered members in the latest Kadima membership drive fell from 80,000 to 15,000, and we don’t know how many of those are on the up-and-up.
That said, now that Kadima’s internecine conflict is out of the way, the party may be ready for a more constructive opposition role, or joining a national unity coalition. This is what the country needs – certainly more than catcalls from the sidelines.