tuque /tūk/ n Canadian English, var. toque [19th c. Canadian French, from the French toque, from the Basque tauka] 1 A close-fitting knitted cap, often with a long tapering end or tassel or pompom. 2 fig Something quintessentially Canadian.
souq /sūk/ n from the Arabic سوق var. souk 1 An open-air marketplace. 2 fig A central meeting place for the circulation of news and ideas.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Tuque Souq 2009 Israeli Election Preview

We don't want to fear-monger and tell you to pack your bags and head for the hills (of Jordan), but polls open in Israel in less than 48 hours and things ain't looking so good. While last-minute surveys hold that the Likud Party remains in the lead for the throne, it has become startlingly clear that the coveted princess of this election is not Benjamin Netanyahu but Avigdor Lieberman.

Lieberman (pictured) leads the far-right, secular-nationalist, pro-transfer party called Yisrael Beitenu ("Israel is our Home"). In recent weeks, his iron-fist rhetoric in post-war polling among voters has led many to conclude that the balance of power in the next Israeli government will be wielded by a racist who advocates the mass expulsion of Arabs from all of Israel.

Before we get to further analysis, here is a breakdown of the current standing of Knesset parties (blue indicates parties in the current coalition govt), and a poll prediction for Tuesday's vote.
Current Knesset:
Kadima 29 seats
Labor 19
Likud 12
Shas 12
Yisrael Beitenu 11
Nat'l Union/NRP 9
Pensioners 7
United Torah Judaism 6
Meretz-Yachad 5
United Arab List 4
Hadash 3
Balad 3

Latest Poll Prediction:

Likud 26 seats
Kadima 23
Yisrael Beitenu 19
Labor 17
Shas 10
Nat'l Union/NRP 6
Meretz-Yachad 6
United Torah Judaism 5
United Arab List 4
Hadash 4

(Notes: With 120 seats in the Knesset, a coalition needs 61 seats to govern. The party that finishes in first place gets first crack at forming a coalition, but if it fails then the runner-up finisher gets a crack. Parties must win at least 2% of the popular vote to qualify for a seat in the Knesset. The Pensioners Party is the latest here-today-gone-tomorrow Israeli party. They came from almost nowhere to nab 7 seats in 2006 and swing Ehud Olmert's Kadima-led coalition. Then the party split, and now it's all but gone.)

Naturally, the poll-leading Likud party is interested in having Lieberman's bloc join it in a coalition government. Things would then get sticky as the religious Shas Party probably wants nothing to do with anti-religion Yisrael Beitenu. So a hypothetical Likud-led government might have to include either Kadima or Labor to add up to a majority of 61.

Ehud Barak's inches-left-of-centre Labor Party is also pulling at Lieberman's sleeve. Kadima smells blood and hopes that enough right-wing fence voters will choose Lieberman over Likud so that Kadima ends up finishing in first place.

Then there's Shas, the Sephardi/Mizrahi ultra-orthodox party, which once upon a time held the fulcrum that Lieberman now wields. Used to be, Shas and its 12-or-15-odd seats would be enough to tip the balance of any coalition, and Shas was usually willing to join any government so long as it secured certain financial and moral guarantees from the government. (Shas is particularly fond of childcare subsidies, since the Haredim have such large families, and it opposes secular marriage ceremonies, which Lieberman staunchly supports.)

Recently, Shas's spiritual leader, the rabbi Ovadia Yosef, warned right-wing voters who sit on the fence between religious and secular that "a vote for Lieberman gives strength to Satan."

Lieberman, true to form, is basking in the glow of all this pre-election pomp. Despite his objectionable, physical ugliness, he's apparently quite popular among young, first-time voters in Israel. And despite his stomach-turning moral ugliness, he's already boasting that in the next Israeli election, his party will win over the most hearts and votes of Israelis.

So will Tuesday really be Avigdor Lieberman's bal débutante? Will Netanyahu get squeezed out between the far-right and the near-right? Will a fourth- or even fifth-place finish spell doom for Labor?

What if Likud and Yisrael Beitenu finish 1-2 but short of a combined majority? Would all the other parties (except presumably the also right-wing NU/NRP) unite to deny Netanyahu and Lieberman a chance at a possibly ruinous government?

Other election news/issues/tidbits culled from the final week of the campaign:

Further-right-than-Lieberman Baruch Marzel will be a poll-station monitor in the city of Umm al-Fahm, Israel's second-largest Arab city, which people like Lieberman and Marzel hope to force its residents to choose between loyalty to Israel and loyalty to Palestine (and expel the latter). This could get ugly.

The aforementioned Shas Party is showcasing its adaptability to the 20th century by promoting the political role of women in the ultra-orthodox community.

Could the Meretz Party, the white doves of the Israeli political flock, be shot down and stuffed for good? Ack, even Ha'aretz has turned on Meretz.

After the Israeli election commission reluctantly lifted its earlier ban on Arab parties participating in these elections, many in Israel's Arab communities are considering a boycott of the polls on Tuesday.

Oh, there are a whopping 33 political parties competing in Tuesday's election. That's a new record, even for a partying electorate like Israel's. The coolest party of the lot:

The Pro-Marijuana Holocaust Survivors Party!!

(This is not a joke. Click here to watch a Holocaust survivor encouraging you to toke up -- at least medicinally.)

No comments: