Thursday, August 19, 2004

 

Early election scenarios in Israel

Yesterday, Ariel Sharon was sent a clear message from Likud party activists at the Likud convention yesterday.
Seeking to cripple Sharon's disengagement plan and foil his related effort to forge a coalition government with the Labor Party, Likud convention delegates handed the prime minister a head-ringing drubbing in a late Wednesday vote to bar him from talks with Labor. (Ha'aretz)

Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, suffered a massive blow to his project to withdraw from settlements in the Gaza Strip last night when his party refused to allow him to invite new partners into the government who might have backed his plans. (Guardian)

Convention members were asked to vote on two resolutions - one from Sharon, authorizing him to carry out coalition negotiations with any Zionist party, and a competing one from Minister Uzi Landau rejecting a coalition with Labor. Sharon's own proposal was defeated by just 5 votes - but Landau's passed 843 to 612, a majority of 231. The votes were hand counted following a computer breakdown. (another Ha'aretz)

There seem to be two options for rebuilding a unity government. The first is to stay the course with the disengagement and bring Labor into the government. This faces major opposition both within Likud (as seen in the results of the Likud convention vote) and from Labor. I think Labor is hoping to rebuild some of the power it lost in the last round of elections, in which case, they would benefit from elections sooner rather than later, exploiting the rift in Likud that is most evident at the moment. Here is the reaction from some Labor party bigshots:
Labor negotiator MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said he would demand the negotiation team disband. "We cannot sit in a government with a prime minister who is a lame duck," he said. "We must reach an understanding with the Likud about early elections."

Labor MKs Dalia Itzik, Ophir Pines-Paz and Ephraim Sneh called for early elections. Labor Party Chairman Shimon Peres will convene the negotiation team to further discuss the matter.
The other option is to build on his current coalition by adding Shas or UTJ, but risking losing Shinui.
The prime minister has called [Shinui's] bluff and started negotiating with United Torah Judaism and Shas. Both parties demand as a minimum a halt to all Shinui-inspired secular legislation such as a bill introducing civil marriages.
I also think it would be very difficult to maintain this coalition through an actualized Gaza withdrawal. They might be on board for the talk, but they might bail before the walk. Also knowing that Shinui would lose seats in any upcoming election would swing power disproportionately to the parties further to the right and the ultra-orthodox parties.

Finally, there is the early elections scenario.
Barring possible challenges in the coming months, the government will likely face a crucial Knesset test over the State Budget, which by law must be passed by March 31, 2005.

If the budget fails to pass by that date, early elections will be held in late June. The Likud vote may have lent momentum to the latter route.
I have no idea what the polls indicate as far as how an early election would change the government make-up. My guess is that Shinui will lose out. If Labor can win some of the lost Shinui voters, they would have a much better hand to play if they were to join the Likud. What, then, does Labor stand to gain from joining a coalition now? They will probably quit over the budget in March anyhow. Will they emerge stronger if they join with Likud now or if they stay on the outside? Or do they figure to enter elections the strongest if they call for elections now? Of course, no matter what, the Gaza withdrawal plan is going to have to wait a while longer before anything actually happens.

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