Tag Archives: elections

Bye Bye Merkel?

It is an election year in Germany and its Chancellor Angela Merkel just turned into a “lame duck”. Her governing coalition has lost the majority in Germany’s second chamber (representing the state governments) to the opposition; a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens won the state elections in Lower Saxony on Sunday by the closest margin possible (69 vs. 68 seats). This will severely limit Merkel’s policymaking leeway (some observers have noted that her government hasn’t done much anyway over the past three years).

Commentators have not yet decided what the consequences of Sunday’s election means for national elections in fall. While Merkel’s CDU lost the government in Lower Saxon it is polling at a five year high nationally. At the same time, the SPD and Greens were running against a popular MP and especially the SPD was under a lot of pressure due to a media campaign against its candidate for Chancellery, Peer Steinbrück and is far from having started serious campaigning. Merkel’s coalition partner the FDP, without which is will become hard for her to form a government, is consistently polling below the 5% election threshold, nationally. Social Democrats and Greens have argued that they will beat Merkel during campaign, believing their political programs are superior. Germany’s Chancellor is considered by many to be devoid of any political program since she abandoned her neoliberal ideas after the election in 2005 which she almost lost against Gerhard Schröder. However, this has not been an obstacle for her popularity so far.

The elections in Germany are much more open than many international (and domestic) observers believe. While widely considered the most powerful woman alive, she might soon be an elder stateswoman.

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Photo Credit: Abode of Chaos

The Rise Of The Israeli Far Right

Several months ago, my two-piece article for this website offering an introduction to the upcoming Israeli elections of January 22nd devoted a scant one sentence to the potential merger of The Jewish Home and the National Union, two parties representing Israel’s radical right.

The Middle-East represents a taxing milieu for the clairvoyant and/or budding political pundit. Though the Jewish Home boasted a paltry three representatives in the previous Knesset, the party’s absorption of the National Union has sent shockwaves throughout the political system.

This is thanks to the elevation to the party’s leadership of Naftali Bennett: a risk-taking multi-millionaire venture capitalist with an indisputably patriotic record, having served with distinction in a Special Forces unit. If there is an Israeli answer to ‘The American Dream’, Bennett’s résumé embodies it.

The party’s platform presents a wish-list of nationalist-religious extremism: an increased role for Jewish law at the expense of Israel’s liberal-democratic moorings, a socially conservative agenda and, the icing on this terrifying cake, annexation of 60% of the West Bank.

A poll published this week predicted Bennett’s party becoming the second-largest in the Knesset, after the ruling Likud-Beitenu Party led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a fellow traveler of the political right.

The rise of Jewish Home has eclipsed an even more worrying development; the takeover of the Likud Party by an entryist, far-right group seeking to inject extremist rhetoric into the mainstream right-wing. This is perhaps embodied best by Moshe Feiglin, who will almost certainly represent the Likud in the next Knesset.

Feiglin stood on the ever-so-pragmatic platform of replacing the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, with a rebuilt Jewish Temple. Whereas previously his voice represented a minute segment of the centre-right big-tent, only a small  majority of Likud’s incoming Knesset Members have expressed support for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

By betting on two horses, Israel’s far-right has this one in the bag. Whether The Jewish Home enter the cabinet or not, Netanyahu will have to mollify an unprecedented swing to the right amongst Israel’s already conservative electorate. If the world thought Netanyahu represents the unbridled face of Israeli intransigence, they may yet turn out to be as flabbergasted as those of us who follow Israel’s volatile electoral system.

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Image: The grave of Baruch Goldstein, the Cave of the Patriachs murderer.
Credit: Yoni Lerner

An Introduction To The Forthcoming Israeli Elections (Part One)

With the recent announcement from Benjamin Netanyahu that Israeli elections will be held approximately 8 months ahead of schedule (in early 2013), we thought an introduction to the domestic Israeli political landscape was in order. 

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The Streets of Jerusalem

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The government of the 18th Knesset was one of the most stable in the topsy-turvy world of Israeli politics: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now the second-longest serving premier in Israel’s history of squabbling, multi-party coalition governments. This represents a rare achievement in the fickle world of Israeli politics, where internal wrangling and ego-fuelled disputes are daily occurrences.

With the Israeli elections scheduled for 22nd January 2013, all of the Knesset’s 120 seats are up for grabs. Below, I attempt to navigate the obfuscated, irascible and often irrational nature of Israeli politics, by providing an outline of the ‘major’ parties vying for representation in the 19th Knesset.

Likud Squared

‘Likud’- Hebrew for ‘Consolidation’, constitutes a merger of a disparate band of right-wing parliamentary parties. The 2013 elections have wrought the ‘consolidation of the consolidation’ in the ‘nationalist camp’: the merging of Likud with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu. Shocked political commentators compensated for being caught off-guard by coining the new slur towards this government-in-waiting: ‘Bieberman’.

The ideological incongruity between these parties contextualises cross-party shock at the news. Yisrael Beitenu is a ‘special interest’ party of Israel’s Russian-born population. Branded ‘The Russians’, Lieberman supporters are unique for their espousing of both secularism (Yisrael Beitenu are often called ‘The Pork Party’) and right-wing ‘ultranationalism’.

By contrast, Likud rose to power in 1977 on the backs of ‘Mizrahim’: orthodox Jews from Arab countries alienated by the Europeanised, socialist secularism of the Labor-led administration. Whilst Lieberman’s pronouncements during his current tenure as Foreign Minister were crass and peppered with nationalist bombast, the American-educated Netanyahu represents the Western-media savvy, ‘silver tongue’ of the Israeli right, taking the Likud to its current 27 seats.

At a glance, one can discern the underlying fundamental precipitants of the merger. Representing but one section of Israeli society and holding only 15 Knesset seats, Lieberman’s lofty Prime Ministerial ambitions would indubitably be rendered unlikely. By co-opting the rising star of the right, Netanyahu neutralised a potential Prime Ministerial contender, positioning Lieberman as an heir, not an opponent. Both leaders have, naturally, denied that a power-sharing deal was cemented.

Though polls had previously been kind to both parties, snap post-merger polling has painted a less rosy picture. Likud may lose both Mizrahi voters put off by Lieberman’s secularism and centre-right voters who eschew Yisrael Beitenu’s apathy towards the international community. The merger has also engendered discomfort from Likudniks who considered themselves Prime Ministers in waiting. Whilst the happy couple are enjoying the honeymoon, inter-party acrimony is already fermenting. 

Yalla (Bye?) Kadima

Kadima is a name rooted in Israeli slang: ‘Yalla Kadima’- ‘let’s go: forward’- is ubiquitous during rush-hour traffic jams. Thus, it is ironic that ‘Yalla Kadima’, a centrist party founded in 2005, is at risk of becoming ‘Yalla Bye’- a streetwise idiom denoting decampment.

Since Ariel Sharon, Kadima’s founder, suffered a stroke in 2006, the party was led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and then by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. The loss of government to Likud in the 2009 elections led to Livni being displaced as leader by her rival, Shaul Mofaz. The latter’s bumbling has not endeared the party to skeptical Israeli voters: despite joining Netanyahu’s coalition in May 2012, Mofaz backtracked, returning Kadima to opposition in mid-July. Polling has consistently shown the party plummeting from its current position of 28 Knesset seats to single-digit figures.

Despite being mired in sleaze and corruption, rumours abound about Olmert’s return to politics as head of a centre-left ‘mega-party’.  Livni is also the subject of speculation; will she found a centrist partyjoin Labor or ally with Olmert? Rather than stand as a testament to their survivability, the resurgence of previous washed-up leaders is demonstrative of a vacuum of electable talent on the centre-left.

The Redemption of Labor

Despite having led every Israeli government from 1948-1977, many pundits predicted the demise of the Labor Party throughout the 18th Knesset. The party enters the 2013 elections with its  lowest-ever mandate of eight Knesset seats, having been decimated by former Labor leader Ehud Barak’s decision to split from the party in 2011.

Barak, the highest-decorated soldier in Israeli history, was replaced by Shelly Yachimovich, a political neophyte with no security experience, often a necessity for Israeli electoral success. Unlike its European namesakes, Labor has failed to connect with working-class Israelis, many of whom are Russian or Mizrahi, due to the predominance of hawkish positions in these demographic groups vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

Starting from a low point, Labor is oddly well-placed to spin a lacklustre result as a positive gain. Buoyed by widespread societal dissatisfaction at the high cost of living, Labor strategists hope to broaden the party’s appeal by focusing on socio-economic issues, rather than the flaccid peace process: Yachimovich has successfully recruited the leaders of the cross-party social protest movement.  With Kadima faltering, opinion polls suggest Labor will supplant them as the official opposition.

Netanyahu’s government finally fell due to the unwillingness of his coalition to agree to a wide-ranging budget of austerity measures. When the cuts bite, Labor is banking upon the vindication of their social-democratic platform: if they under-perform electorally, expect them to play ‘the long game’ and sit out the next government in opposition.

This is the first of a two part series. You can read the second part here.

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 Photo credit: dmitrysumin

Prisoners Should Be Allowed To Vote. No Question.

The answer to preventing criminal re-offenses lies in ensuring that criminals serve their sentences, but never lose their perception that they are still citizens of a nation, and should act like one when they come out of prison.

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Prison convict trapped society

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A brawl is brewing between the European Court and the Coalition government in Britain. The former wants to implement a law which allows the prisoners to have a vote during elections, while David Cameron has defiantly said during Prime Minister’s Questions that the prisoners will never get the vote under his government.

It may perhaps seem like common sense that prisoners should lose their right to vote. After all, they have lost their right to freedom due to committing a crime which has in some way disadvantaged the society, thus they should have no say in the shaping of the society. Nevertheless such a judgment is not truly thought through properly. The purpose of putting criminals into prison is twofold: to protect the community and to hopefully punish the criminals so that they will not re-offend again once they are out. However, Britain has an appalling record of criminals who commit crimes repeatedly. 1 in 3 people who appear before a judge have committed on average 15 crimes before. It is obvious that the search for the holy grail of turning criminals into lawful citizens is still lost. I believe that one of the reasons for this is the fact that prisoners become completely alienated from society once in prison. One may argue that this is the whole point of imprisonment, however is it not essential, and more important to ensure that criminals do not re-offend. One way of preventing re-offenses is to ensure that prisoners do not feel segregated from the rest of the country. Unfortunately, preventing prisoners from voting is doing just that. By taking away the prisoner’s freedom to play a role in who governs the country, society is sending a message to prisoners that he or she is no longer part of that society. This undoubtedly will lead to the feeling of isolation and, in due course, re-offending. After all, following the convict’s freedom from prison, why should he or she feel the need to abide by the law when he or she feels psychologically distanced from the society which made these laws?

If the British government wants to see the figures for re-offending diminished, then the country as a whole should not treat prisoners like sub-class citizens or animals, but instead treat them as citizens who deserve to serve their punishment, but still have a vital role in shaping society. If Britain allows prisoners to vote, it will at least psychologically ensure that the prisoner feels welcomed and senses some compassion which hopefully will ensure he will not re-offend again once the freedom is given back to him.

The debate on whether criminals should be punished or rehabilitated has been discussed for many years now. I believe the real answer does not lie in whether the government disciplines them harshly or treats them as “sick” people who just need to be cured with care just like one is cured from a common cold. The answer lies in ensuring the criminals serve their sentence but never lose their perception that they are still citizens of a nation, and should act like one when they come out of prison.

Whether this method will be effective is undoubtedly debatable. However as the government is yet to find away to curb re-offending, perhaps this method should at least be given a thought.

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Photo Credit: Alakhai85