Friday, February 24, 2006

Israeli Polls -- Any Trends?

With elections now only 31 days away, another set of polls have been produced by the major media outlets in Israel, and while nothing significant has changed -- no major break one way or the other -- some trends may be developing. The Haaretz-Channel 10 poll shows a perceptible dimunition, however slight, in Kadima's standing -- from a high in late January of 44 predicted mandates, Kadima has slipped for the first time this year to under 40 seats. But the two trailing contenders, Labor and Likud, still show no signs of strength. The Yediot Achronot poll produces similar data: Kadima - 39; Labor - 19; Likud - 16 (though Haaretz has Likud at 14). The Ma'ariv poll is no different. With such a poor showing for the two trailing lists, there is even media speculation of replacing Netanyahu and Peretz for more attractive candidates.

This week's big political story is the unification of the historic Ashkenazi National Religious Party with the secular-extreme right National Union, now tracking at 10-11 seats. The merger marks the apparent end of the venerable NRP, a once politically moderate party on foreign affairs, and oftentimes linchpin component in coalition jockeying. But in recent years the NRP has been overrun by settler sentimentality.

Undecideds continue to play a decisive role in the playing field, with Haaretz reporting that the floating vote equals 18 seats. This represents a tightening of the undecided vote. On the issue of PM leadership, Kadima's Olmert remains the strongest contender, with Labor's Amir Peretz still trailing badly. But the dominant story as reported on Channel One's Friday news broadcast is the indifference and apathy of the Israeli voter to this upcoming election. But things will soon heat up. Beginning March 7 the voters will be bombarded with televised campaign ads and jingles, and possibly at least one televised debate amongst the leading candidates. (Watch for Olmert to take a "Rose Garden" approach, and refuse to participate in a debate.) Kadima, with its vague platform, remains in the driver's seat, able to form a coalition in a multiplicity of configurations.

February 25 Update:

I've just had a chance to go through Uri Blau's laundry-list article in this weekend's Haaretz magazine concerning Olmert's many run-ins with the law (see the truncated English version here). In my first blog post on Olmert, I mentioned his lavish tastes and questionable financial associations. Now it is all laid out.

Missing from the English-language version is the following damning line: "Possibly the most outstanding thing in his path to the PM's chair is that Olmert was transformed from an invesigator into a serial target of investigations." Amongst the issues raised in the Hebrew version is a sidebar article concerning the January 2004 sale for $2.69 million of Olmert's Jerusalem home to S. Daniel Abraham, an American-Jewish peace activist and co-owner of Slim Fast. Olmert still lives in the house, awaiting work on a new residence on Sheinkin Street in Tel Aviv -- of course, soon he will have another residence in Jerusalem. The sidebar notes that Olmert's public turning-point endorsement of withdrawal from large chunks of the Palestinian territories came in an interview published by Yediot Achronot's Nahum Barnea in December 2003.

Another sidebar, entitled "Where is Yosi?" features younger brother Dr. Yosi Olmert and his problems in paying back a 2 million NIS loan (to 7 banks and private loansharks) over a failed business venture. The sidebar asks the questions where exactly is Yosi Olmert (since he left -- some say fled -- Israel over 18 months ago) and what is he doing? Well, we know more than the newspapers: Dr. Olmert (promoted in advertising as "brother of the acting Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert") will be speaking here in Hartford at the JCC on March 2.

At least two columnists refer to Blau's article in Friday's edition of Haaretz. Will this investigative article affect Olmert's already mediocre standing with the Israeli electorate?

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