Tuesday, January 28, 2003
It's going to be a busy week this week, so blog will be a little light. But the Israeli exit polls are in, and I have to comment.
* The late surge for Yisrael B'Aliyah in the wake of the Jerusalem Post endorsement was a phantom. I wanted to believe in it, because I like the party and its leader. But it wasn't real. All three exit polls give them 3 seats, same as where they were polling before the endorsement.
* Meretz polled much lower than expected - something that didn't show up at all in polls before the election. If anything, pre-election polls showed Meretz gaining at the expense of Labor. But Labor didn't win these votes back. Which means that a critical mass of Meretz voters voted for . . .
* Shinui. Their success is a bigger story than Likud's rebound. Projections have them potentially winning as many seats as Labor, though likely they'll fall short by 2 seats. Lapid surely knows that what gave him the last 3 or so seats was defections from Meretz. He will want to keep those voters. Therefore, he will stick to his guns on not sitting in a right-wing government and not sitting with Shas.
* Nonetheless, I still think Sharon has got to approach Shinui first, because with Shinui he can form a narrow majority government without National Union, Labor, Shas or UTJ. Based on the exit polls, the coalition of Likud, Yisrael B'Aliyah, One Nation, Shinui and the National Religious Party will have between 60 and 62 seats. This has not been a majority coalition in polling since the end of December, and I believe it is Sharon's second-preferred coalition, after a Likud-Labor unity government. Against such a coalition, Labor could not vote no-confidence, and they would come under considerable pressure to join. Once the basic coalition guidelines are formed with Shinui, Sharon can open the door to everyone to join a government of national unity.
* The Arab vote was supposedly down from historic levels. But the Arab parties are projected to do quite well, with a total of 10 seats. Similarly, low voter turnout was expected to be a problem for Likud (small-party voters tend to be more determined) and for Shinui (their voters were the most undecided). But these parties did better than expected; the big losers, relative to pre-election projections, were Shas and Meretz, whose voters were presumed to be highly motivated. This suggests that some tweaking needs to be done to polling methods.
* Unless you count Shinui as part of the Left (which is a problematic identification; would you have called Tsomet part of the Left?), the collapse of the Left was profound. In Barak's 1999 landslide, One Israel (the combined Labor-Gesher-Meimad list) won 26 seats. The projections from the exit polls for the entire Zionist left - Labor-Meimad plus Meretz - are for more than 26 seats; the Channel 1 projection is for 24 seats. Depending on how you count, there are more seats to the right of Likud in the new Knesset than there are on the Zionist left (Yisrael B'Aliyah + Shas + National Religious + National Union + Herut = between 26 and 28 seats; I count Shas as to the right of Likud because Shas took a strongly pro-settler position in the most recent election campaign, including having Rav Ovadiah rescind his famous ruling that land could be traded to save Jewish lives).
* Finally, to my great relief, the Green Leaf marijuana legalization party did not embarrass the country by gaining representation in the Knesset at this time. When peace and prosperity are restored, let a thousand silly parties bloom. But not now.