Double Carpet on Sunday

Double Carpet on Sunday


    How many of these will be Prime Minister this year?

Israel must be one of the few democracies whose leader is currently less secure than Gordon Brown, following the corruption probe into sitting PM Ehud Olmert (top left), amid allegations that he received $150,000 in cash from US businessman Morris Talansky. Before consideration of the current crisis, a brief overview of Israel’s politics.

Historically the two dominant parties have been the centre-left Labor (PMs including Rabin, Peres, Barak) and the centre-right Likud (Begin, Shamir, Netanyahu), although coalition governments were very much the norm under the system of PR (the threshold for a Knesset seat is 2% of the vote). More recently however, the party system has become much more fragmented, with the 2005 founding of the new centrist party Kadima by Ariel Sharon (who is apparently still in a coma), as well as religious parties such as Shas, the National Union / National Religious Party, and the new right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu attracting significant numbers of votes and MPs.

Parties merging, splitting, forming, and disappearing are fairly common events in Israeli politics. Like France or Italy, “retread” leaders are common – both Labor (Ehud Barak) and Likud (Benjamin Netanyahu – picture top right) are led by former PMs, and the evergreen Shimon Peres (Kadima) who is the current President at 84 was a Prime Minister for Labor in both the 1980s and 90s.

To put Israel’s political fragmentation into perspective, Kadima, which won the 2006 election and thus provided the Prime Minister in the shape of Ehud Olmert, won just 22.0% of the vote – below the Lib Dems under Charles Kennedy in the 2005 election, and below the winners’ scores in European multi-party PR states such as Denmark or the Netherlands. Only Israel itself seems to have beaten this low winning score for a modern democracy, with Labor securing just 20% in the 1999 election.

After the 2006 election, Olmert put together a 4-party coalition featuring Kadima, Labor, Shas, and the new Pensioner’s Party (Gil). The government’s popularity plummeted as a result of the 2006 Lebanon conflict and the subsequent Winograd Commission – and Tzipi Livni (centre picture) publically called on Olmert to step down at this time. Yisrael Beiteinu later joined the coalition but have since left.

Olmert’s present position looks extremely shaky indeed. He stated that he wouldn’t step down as PM unless the corruption investigations against him resulted in an indictment, but he is now being overtaken by events. Defense Minister and Labor leader Ehud Barak called upon Olmert to step down or he would pull Labor out of the coalition – Olmert responded that he would stay put. It appears that there may be moves within Kadima to begin the process of a party primary to select a new leader – Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni scores best in the polls but Shaul Mofaz may be the party’s choice; he is closer to Olmert, while Livni has clearly long since burned her bridges with him.

Completely unrelated to the Olmert crisis, Shas have also indicated that they too may pull out of the coalition, over the issue of peace talks with the Palestinians. Their ruling body the Council of Torah Sages are due to meet on the issue, with spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef likely to be involved too. Indeed, Shas “pulling the plug” may be the event that dooms the PM first, ahead of Labor withdrawing from the coalition or Olmert being indicted for corruption.

The upshot of all this is that early elections look very likely in Israel – although early is a relative term, as they are not expected before September and could even be in November. As Israel votes on a Tuesday, is there a possibility that the world’s two most important democracies in terms of global impact will be voting on the same day? A new election is thought very likely to see Likud under Benjamin Netanyahu return to power – and this could well mean that all bets are off on the peace process, even if it has sometimes been shaky and halting under the Olmert administration.

The internal politics of Israel is complicated and labyrinthine – out of the 20 or so countries I follow it’s definitely one of the hardest ones to get to grips with. However, for those of you interested in foreign politics, it is well worth studying as there are few countries in the world which have such major importance not only regionally but internationally. Wikipedia is strongly recommended for reading about leaders, parties, and the political structure, while the English-language Haaretz and Jerusalem Post are indispensable for keeping up with news from Israel.

My top international betting selections:

1. I think the GOP is outstanding value to win the White House at 2.84 with Betfair. The market gives the Republicans about a 35% chance – I make it about 50%. Obama’s task could now be that bit harder if he struggles to win Michigan following the RBC ruling yesterday.

2. Conservative overall majority at 1.74 with Betfair – again I think punters should be piling in to this, as I can’t see the Tories failing to win a majority even if Gordon is not at the helm for the next GE.

3. The Nationals to win in New Zealand at 7/20 with Centrebet – they have had large poll leads which seem to be holding. There was some 1.44 on Betfair but sadly this has now gone.

Don’t forget to bet via the PB betting pages to help keep the site going.

Paul Maggs “Double Carpet”

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