The People have Spoken – What does it all Mean?…writes Michael Kuttner

January 25, 2013 by Michael Kuttner
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With the soldiers’ and other special ballots counted, the hard part of coalition building is starting to get underway. Before going into details about the almost impossible task of satisfying diametrically opposed positions on a variety of topics, it is important to analyze and explain why the electorate voted the way it did. What motivated voters to punish Bibi and give their support to a political novice?

Michael Kuttner

Michael Kuttner

Any ruling party in a democracy starts to lose support from the time it is elected to govern. Their speed of decline depends on what sort of unpopular policies they implement, how many promises they break and how disconnected they become from their base supporters. A common affliction amongst many politicians is one of over inflated egos. This leads to a disregard for the wishes and aspirations of the electorate because the ego tripper is convinced that he or she is the only one who knows what is best for the unwashed masses. Israel has a surplus of such individuals and nothing demonstrates the problem better than the results of these elections.

After two terms it seems that Likud and its leadership lost touch with the economic realities faced by ordinary citizens and in addition failed to address several other issues such as equal army/ community service for all sectors of society, the high cost of housing, the high cost of certain basic food and a tax system which needs reforming. For the first time, economic and social challenges trumped defense and security matters. While the latter still features high on the priority list, the plain fact is that equality in carrying society’s burdens has become a crucial factor. In addition, voters were looking for some fresh faces which accounts for them flocking to Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett and deserting the same old faces in Likud Beiteinu and the recycled political failures of Labour, Kadimah and the Tzippy Livni parties. These latter 3 parties, composed in the main by refugees from other parties, who had no qualms in deserting previous allegiances in a blatant effort to retain their parliamentary perks, turned off a major part of the electorate. There is nothing more disgusting than leaders who claim that they alone possess the truth and that everyone else is a disaster and those followers whose opportunistic lack of principles is so transparently obvious.

It is a triumph of Israel’s vibrant democracy that the electorate saw through these shams and voted accordingly.

The lackluster campaign by Likud Beiteinu also contributed to their decline. Instead of presenting a bold manifesto for the future, they were content to smugly rest on their laurels. Yesh Atid and others presented coherent plans for the direction of the country and this combined with fresh faces and charismatic leadership appealed to a large number of voters. There were at the end about 32 parties contesting these elections. Apart from the Ultra Orthodox and Arab parties which have a guaranteed base of supporters, the others were more or less fringe issue groups, some more serious than others.

As I mentioned in a previous opinion piece, the international and local media were predicting a fanatical, hard line result with all the doom and gloom that goes with this scenario. They were licking their lips at the prospect of being able to rubbish Israelis for having the audacity to determine their own destiny in the face of hate, delegitimisation and unbridled bias. Now that it is obvious Israelis have for various reasons chosen a moderate and balanced Knesset, the wind has been taken out of their sails. Will the media acknowledge their uninformed pontifications and concentrate on reporting the actual facts or will they continue to ignore this peaceful demonstration of real democracy and ignore the lack of such manifestations amongst our neighbours? No prizes for guessing the obvious answer.

Now that the populace has spoken, what can we make of the results and the possible make up of the next governing coalition? This is where, in previous years, the “horse trading” by minor parties turned ugly. The spectacle of certain parties trying to extort as much money & influence as possible, reached unimagined depths. This time, however, there is a glimmer of hope that the negotiations, while still revolving around who gets what, will actually be more about what is best for the country than what is best for certain sectors. The weakness of the Prime Minister’s position and the strength of the new centrist party, Yesh Atid, should hopefully produce a much better result. The PM has certain options all of which carry risks. If he panders once again to the Ultra Orthodox parties he will find it almost impossible to introduce equal army service for all, plus he will be at the mercy of demands to keep pouring money into Yeshivot whose students avoid equal service. That will scuttle any prospect of an agreement for a stable coalition. The fourth largest party is now the reinvigorated Bayit Yehudi (ex National Religious Party) which of course believes in universal service for all but is certainly not a supporter of territorial concessions to yet another Palestinian Arab State in Yehuda & Shomron. That will present difficulties if the coalition feels the need to appease the USA & UN. One would find it hard to imagine that Tzippi Livni, a loser with visions of grandeur who ripped into Bibi during the campaign and now heads a 6 person faction, being part of the new governing coalition. The Labour Party has virtually counted itself out and Kadimah which scraped back with 2 uninspiring individuals does not offer much hope of establishing a long lasting administration.

All these permutations must be taken into account and at this stage it is too early to make any reliable predictions. Five minutes is a long time in Israeli politics so we will have to wait and see what pans out at the end of the day. The hope is that this time round the negotiations will produce a team that will be able to successfully tackle the major challenges looming in front of us.

This being the Land of miracles, we look forward with a mixture of faith and hope.

Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel and works for The Israel Resource News Agency in Jerusalem.   

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