Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Election Day in Israel

Disclaimer: below are just my impressions of the elections today. I in NO way am an expert on Israeli politics (I could barely be called an amateur observer) and I honestly haven't even been following all that closely in the last months. Any ideas below are simply things I have picked up informally by reading news headlines, or chatting with my friends, roommates, and people on the street. I am writing this mainly to educate myself!

Today is election day for the Israeli Knesset (Knesset is the parliament - kind of like congress, only with one branch instead of two like in the USA)!

What that means in the short term:
  • My office is closed (as are almost all businesses - its like a holiday, which I think is brilliant so that everyone can go and vote)
  • Public transportation is free (wow, huh? - though I think you have to prove you are going to vote. My roommates all had to travel home (outside of Jerusalem) so they took the free transport this morning!)
What this means in the long term:
  • The leader of whichever party wins the most seats in the Parliamentary election will become the new Prime Minister.
  • A new party *may* win a majority in Parliament, meaning a shift in the general direction of the countries policies and legislation.
Major issues that seem to be affecting the elections:
  • The Gaza War - hello. This was (and is) a HUGE deal - when we first arrived in the country, many people told me they thought the elections would be postponed or cancelled due to the conflict. Also, because of the conflict there has been a breakdown in cooperation efforts been Jewish and Arab groups (this is also affecting our work with NGOs because of fear of backlash by extremist groups if people are seen to be 'cooperating' with the other side). At one point, 2 of the Arab parties were disqualified from running for the Knesset (for complicated legal reasons), but they were recently re-allowed to run. Intersting video on this here.
  • There seems to be a swing to the right in Israeli politics (so I hear) - in large part, probably due to the above. This has caused many to believe that the rightist and even extreme rightist parties are going to make huge gains in the elections. Several people I have talked to say this is very scary for the peace process.
  • A Palestinian State and the Peace Process.. per usual
  • And of course, lots and lots of domestic issues. (check out the link! It is a great super easy to read and short background on the major issues)
The main contenders:
  • Tzipi Livni (Party = Kadima) - She is in the running, her party seemed to be behind before, but they are making a comeback. She paints herself as the 'centrist' or 'moderate'. She is currently the acting PM.
  • Ehud Barak (Party = Labor) - Remember him? You, know, Camp David with Bill and Yasser? He was PM from 1999-2001. He is currently the Defense Minister. Most people I have talked to don't think that he will win. His biggest thing seems to be staying the Defense Minister, meaning that his party needs to win a certain number of seats.
  • Benyamin Netanyahu (Party = Liqud) - he is currnetly leader of the opposition, and is known as 'Bibi'. His party is definitely hard on the right. I'm not going to lie, he seems kind of scary to me. According to the BBC he is "one of the most right-wing and controversial leaders in Israel's history" . He was PM right before Ariel Sharon. Up until the last day or two, everyone seemed to think he was DEFINITELY going to win - now, it seems a bit more up in the air.
  • Avigdor Lieberman - (Party = Yisrael Beytenu) - VERY far right - I don't think he will win, but I add him on here because his party is expected to make big gains and they have been getting a lot of press. He is best known for his hard stance on Arabs - he proposed a plan where every single Arab would have to sign a pledge to Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State, and that every large Arab neighborhood would be cut out of Israel. Uh, VERY scary to me.
  • There are a bunch of other smaller parties, many moderate, left, even Jewish/Arab alliances - but they are all small and so are not likely to win a majority. (it is interesting to me, because most of the people I have talked to said that they are voting for one of these smaller parties - granted, I talk to a lot of human rights people. BUT, even some of my roommates, who are definitely NOT HR people, said they are voting for the smaller parties)
Who will win? I have no idea. Some people I talk to say it is a 'shoe in' for Netanyahu. Others say it is way too close to call. Of course, several of the parties announced this morning that they are guaranteed to win. Headlines this morning seem to suggest that Kadima (Livni) is closing the gap with Liqud (Netanyahu) - it could be an exciting night! We will know soon. Netanyahu and Livni's pictures are here for your enjoyment. :)

Interesting side fact - Israel has both a President and a Prime Minister.
This explains the differences well:
"Israel's President is a largely ceremonial job, with the bulk of power lying in the hands of the Prime Minister. The President is the official head of state who is elected by the Knesset whose roles include: signing laws, chooses the member of Knesset to form the government, confirms diplomats, signs Knesset approved treaties, appoints judges and the governor of the Bank of Israel (as well as other bureaucrats). The Prime Minister, who is elected as a Member of Knesset through general elections is responsible for the official running of the country, a role similar to that of other heads of State in the West." [taken from Israel Votes]

Some resources if you want more info:
Israel Votes - This is a great site to get the basics, I found it very easy to understand
The Guardian's analysis - lots of great articles here (and very user-friendly)
Haaretz - a left-leaning Jerusalem newspaper
The Jerusalem Post - a more right-leaning Jerusalem newspaper

1 comment:

Victor said...

In terms of who can bring about peace, I'm leaning towards Livni. Of course, I don't know any of the smaller party candidates. I only know the top four from periodicals and newspaper publications.