Sunday, March 26, 2006

Pre-Election Wrap-up

With less than 48 hours to go before polls open in Israel, the moment of truth has arrived for the untested political affair-of-convenience called Kadima. In these crucial final hours, the volatile and unpredictable Israeli electorate is making up its mind, and the sizable bloc of undecided voters is finally paying attention to this exceedingly uneventful election. Based on previous instances, polling data is now useless. We've got to use our gut to make a prediction. So here goes (and of course, if there is a last-second terror event, all predictions are invalidated) - Kadima is not going to do nearly as well as the polls indicate. Kadima has made some serious errors in the final days of campaigning, and many voters will simply return to their historically comfortable political homes rather than bet on a dubious and inexperienced PM candidate and a vague platform. Coalition calculations will play a large factor in the polling. Everyone understands that later this week Kadima's Ehud Olmert will be appointed with the task of forming the next Israeli government -- but what that government looks like will have a lot to do with how Israelis choose their parties on Tuesday. My bet is that without Sharon at the helm, many of those former Labor voters who indicated support for Kadima in the polls will have a last minute change of heart. Thus, if my suspicion that Kadima will underperform the predicted 35-37 seats is correct, the bulk of the underperformance will spill over into Labor's direction. The other thing to watch is the small (anything under 15 seats) parties, which includes the Sefardi religious Shas and the Russian conservative Yisrael Beyteinu. They may be tracking all wrong in the media polling. I will eat my hat if Benjamin Netanyahu does better than expected.

If the last round of polls are correct, and even if they are not, it looks like Olmert will have a hard time putting together anything other than a narrow government for more unilateral withdrawing. A Kadima-Labor-Meretz government will not have the broad numbers to make any further unilateral withdrawals doable. A government of 61-63 seats (with the possible unspoken support of a further 7-8 Arab MKs) does not make for a strong government that can stand up to the settler movement in the West Bank. Expect this election to end in a whimper, not a bang. Unlike the voting in Palestine in January, in Israel on Tuesday there will be no great sea-change, no seismic shifts. Once again, the Israeli electorate will indicate that it is split nearly down the middle on the great foreign policy issue of Palestine.

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