Wednesday, March 29, 2006

31 flavors and then some

So, just as it always does, election day came and went. Security was up, Israelis all had a day off, four people were killed by felled rockets and the Islamic Jihad sent its first Katyusha flying in from Gaza.

I voted in Jerusalem, because that's where my permanent address is listed. Before I actually cast my ballot, I got the feeling I was about to take a final examination I was bound to fail. Not because I hadn't studied - I had - but because I really suck at multiple choice tests.

There was only one question on this exam, though the implications were endless. The actual voting was simple. It involved taking one slip of paper from the 31 possible party choices, sticking it inside a soon-to-be-sealed envelope, and dropping it into the box.

I ended up voting Labor. My grandmother was livid when I told her. She voted Likud. "You voted for the moustache? What do you have with the moustache?" She asked me. I made up my mind sometime before the election, but only really decided while waiting in line for my turn at the polls. My decision was based mostly on the idea of strategic voting, and on the realization that when it came down to it, my two narrowed-down choices of Meretz and Labor weren't so different from each other. Amir Peretz is no prince, but he's better than Yossi Beilin, the capitalist communist. Labor and Likud were neck to neck in the polls (Labor expected to win some 16-18 seats, Likud 15-17), and I felt like my vote was most needed to get Labor as far ahead of Likud as possible. So I went with Labor. Then I called my mom and made sure she was voting Meretz.

It seems to have been a good call, though who knows what's going to come of all this. Most likely another corrupt government stacked with politicians who are more than willing to break those same ideologically based campaign promises they made a few weeks ago when trying to win over the disillusioned ideologues.

My predictions for the results were pretty accurate, but there were definitely some surprises. I thought Kadima would win 30-31 (they got 29), Labor 20-22 (they got 20), Likud 15 (got 12), National Union-NRP 12 (they got 9), Shas 7 (12), Meretz 5 (got that one right), Green Leaf 2 (none), combined Arab parties 7-9 (they got 9).

What nobody expected was that the Pensioners party was going to get 7 seats. Seven seats? This was a nonexistent party before these elections. Their MKs are already retired. They barely campaigned. But for some reason, more young Tel Avivers voted for pension than for legalizing marijuana.

What everybody expected, and what I kept going on and on about - the need to focus on the security situation before implementing necessary social reform - proved to be completely backward. Israel voted for social change. Or else - and just as likely, more likely, even - Israel voted for the most obscure parties they could think of out of political frustration and aggravation.

The next thing on everybody's agenda is the coalition. When I heard the results, my first thought was that there is no way this government is going to make it past a year. It is the definition of a minority government. Kadima won only 9 seats over Labor, Labor only 8 seats over Shas. Labor has refused to be in any coalition with right-wing parties (another empty campaign promise?), and truthfully, there is no way Kadima could join with one either, considering that would require breaking the party's raison d'etre, pulling out of the territories. While each party may have some elements in common, they are really just too different to be successful partners for very long.

The best possible coalition is actually the one that seems not so far from the one most likely to be formed. The best would be Kadima, Labor, Shas, Pensioners and Meretz. This would mean a coalition of parties completely dedicated to social reform (aside from foreign policy-based Kadima), willing to disengage (Shas could be convinced, easily) and a fairly left-wing (ok, left of center) one at that. The coalition that will most likely be formed will include Kadima, Labor, Shas, United Torah Judaism and the Pensioners. While that is probably one of the more democratic ways to go about it (considering where the votes went), I think it's one that will make it harder to get any sort of agreements made.

As it is, Olmert's already said he's planning on focusing on social policy this year, saving disengagement (or the new term, convergence) for next year. Since I don't actually think this government's going to last that long, I guess that means the security situation, which a week ago seemed to be the highest on everybody's agenda, isn't going to even factor into Kadima's policies. Ironic, considering why the party was formed.

But politics are politics, and while it may seem like there are new possibilities ahead, we can't forget that state politics are just high school politics, the next generation. No matter who wins an election, left, right or retired, once in government, all politicans are the same.

One thing that really seems to stand out in this election is the evidence of what happens in a country with no limit to the number of parties allowed to run. Democracy is democracy, and it's great to have choice in democracy, but 31 parties is a ridiculous number of parties to be up in a single election. There is no question that aside from the fact that this was an election based on choosing the lesser of the evils, the close outcome was the result of the fact that people threw their votes every which way, ensuring the impossibility of a single party winning any sort of majority. The choice here was between the lesser of 31 evils.

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