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Ari On The Road

Ari Sharp

Ari Sharp is a member of the Australian Democrats.

In the 2001 Federal election, he was the party's candidate for Kooyong. In the 2002 Victorian election, he contested the Legislative Council by-election for East Yarra Province.

During his present overseas travels he will be providing the occasional report on political matters of interest.

Jan 30
Likud Prevails, Labour Tumbles, Secular Kingmaker Emerges

Jan 27
A Democracy-Led Recovery

Jan 22
Sharon Heading For Victory

Jan 15
Bumper Sticker Politics

Jan 06
Corruption And Questionable Electoral Processes

Dec 31
The Complex Game Of Israeli Politics

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Ari On The Road

Quiet Disdain Growing Among Israelis As Sharon Heads For Victory

by Ari Sharp

January 22, 2003

Ari Sharp The outcome of the Israeli election is a foregone conclusion: Likud, led by Ariel Sharon, will form government. The interesting thing, however, is how they will do it.

As has been the case for the first 55 years of Israel's history, it is impossible for any single party to achieve a majority in its own right.

The simple mathematics mean that in the 120-seat parliament, elected entirely by proportional representation, a single party would require 50% of the first preference vote, not simply 50% of the two party preferred as would be required to form government in Australia. Given that there are 27 parties vying for election - and 20 are a serious chance to achieve some sort of representation - a single party achieving the 61 seats necessary for government is merely a Likud pipedream.

The question that is currently entertaining Israeli poll watchers is just who Likud will form a coalition with. Likud leader Ariel Sharon is basically faced with two possible ways to reach the 61 seats he needs for government:

  • The first option is to form a National Unity government, and invite the Labour Party to join him. Whilst the price to pay would be a number of senior ministries which would need to be given to the Labour Party, it would ensure that there was no serious opposition force. Sharon would also have a significant buffer beyond the 61 seat minimum to allow for the personal dummy spits - which Israeli politics is famous for - without endangering his government.

    The bonus is that the secular party Sinuni have declared they would join a National Unity government (and only a National Unity government), and Shinui are expected to received up to 18 seats in the Knesset.

    Labour leader Amram Mitzna categorically ruled out Labor joining a National Unity government during the week, however he was almost immediately undermined by a series of Labour senior figures, each seemingly jockeying for a good position after the inevitable Labour defeat.

  • The other option which Likud can contemplate is forming a coalition with a series of religious parties which exist on the right of the political spectrum. The benefit to this from Sharon's perspective is that he can deny Labour the benefits of being in government, and have Knesset numbers well beyond the minimum 61 seats.

    The political price, however, is that the religous parties are notorious for extracting much for the religious community from whomever they form a coalition with.

Either of these options is a recipe for a short lived government. It is inevitable that such a marriage of convenience would fall under the daily pressure of government, whether it is regarding Israel's dealing with the Palestinians, or one of the myriad domestic issues it confronts.

Either way, it is difficult to see how Ariel Sharon (or anyone else, for that matter) could hold together a coalition for anything near the statutory 4 year term of the next Knesset. Instead, it seems likely that Israelis will return to the polls in the next 2-3 years, facing again similar political options, and most likely making much the same decisions.

There seems to be a quiet dissatisfaction with the path the election has taken. This contest is far from the democratic ideal, in which elections are a chance to articulate competing visions and ideas for the future. Instead, the issues of the election have been the petty political issues rather than the big ideas and big questions.

Each day, the Israeli media serves up a diet of scandal (from potentially illegal campaign contributions received by Sharon to dodgy business dealings by Mitzna in his term as Haifa mayor) and electoral muckraking (who said what, who was censured by the Central Elections Committee, and so on). This cycle seems self-perpetuating, and no one is prepared to outline a vision or an agenda.

There is a quiet disdain growing amongst ordinary Israelis who want some stability in government, and are sick of the battle of personalities and the flinging of mud. It seems inevitable, however, that the next few years will bring more of the same.

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