By Tuesday morning, March 3, Israel will know who won and who lost its third election in a year. The size of voter turnout will carry an equally crucial message. Despite efforts by all the parties to combat election-fatigue, more voters than usual are expected to stay away from their polling stations out of two considerations (that have nothing to do with the coronavirus):
- The dearth of convincing leaders to take over from the incumbent prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud after four terms in office. It is hard to see much difference on issues between Likud and Kahol Lavon, the new party established a year ago for the express purpose of unseating Netanyahu. No longer a novelty, Benny Gantz and Co. failed to come up with an appealing message.
The left-of center and centrist space stands vacant since the historic Labor’s breakup, while the leftwing parties continue to self-destruct. Kahol Lavon has failed to pose a convincing alternative in government for challenging the supremacy of the rightist camp with all its varying shades.
- General revulsion from the mudslinging campaign, which sank to the pits as never before in Israel’s electoral history. The contenders on all sides used their final appearances before voting day to heap dirt on their opposite numbers. At an earlier stage, Netanyahu tried highlighting his achievements to impress the electorate as a tactic for beating down his untried and inexperienced challengers in Kahol Lavan. People yawned. It was only when he resorted in the last lap of the campaign to negative tactics that Likud started widening the gap with an increasingly desperate Kahol Lavan.
The last opinion polls before the election gave Netanyahu’s rating as prime minister 44pc campared with 32pc for Gantz. The Kahol Lavan and Likud campaigns turned vicious, but the new party’s amateurish methods and arrogance fell flat against the strategy of Likud’s political pros, and its earlier enthusiasts started peeling off and looking around..
But most of all, the voter’s overarching wish, which was demonstrated by deadlocking the two previous elections between the two leading parties, was and is for them to join forces for a power-sharing unity government stable enough to last the full term. However, nothing was more alien than the concept of unity in this campaign. In any case, Kahol Lavan had sworn never to sit in the same government as Netanyahu.
Therefore, even if Likud comes out of Monday’s vote as the largest party and Netanyahu is again awarded the formation of the next government – a task which defeated him in the last two rounds – it is far from sure that he will be able to haul Israel out of its political crisis. Much depends on whether his right-wing-religious bloc gains a 61-seat Knesset majority. If it does, the new government, although it will have its hands full bringing the budget and other sections of government out of their long stasis, will be charged with a major rehab job for the ailing national political system. But even before getting down to these herculean tasks, Netanyahu is faced with his trial for corruption just two weeks after the election.
Netanyahu has said he will not seek a presidential pardon or a plea bargain. Neither has he specified whether he will appear in the dock at his trial or leave it to his attorneys to fight his case. The March 2 election, however it turns out, will therefore leave a host of issues with regard to the country’s political and legal system unresolved.