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Israel's Crisis Election: Sharon re-elected on historically low turnout
DESPITE HAVING failed in every single election promise and being surrounded by disaster and corruption, Sharon is the first Israeli prime minister in over a decade to be re-elected.
How did this happen? AMNON COHEN from Maavak Sozialisti, CWI Israel, reports.
ISRAEL'S ELECTIONS, held against a backdrop of crisis, saw Ariel Sharon's Likud party double its vote to win 37 seats in the Knesset (Parliament).
The Labour Party (which is the traditional party of the Israeli capitalists) plunged to an all-time low of 19 seats. Turnout was 68.5%, the lowest for an election to the Knesset in Israeli history.
The economy is in deep recession. GDP (national income) per person has dropped by 6%. Successive tightening of eligibility criteria has failed to prevent the rise in the jobless total. Mass redundancies have not only affected the old manufacturing industries, but also hi-tech and the banking sector.
Sharon's iron fist policy of militarily crushing the Palestinians has devastated Palestinian cities but has failed to stop the suicide bombings or provide security for ordinary Israelis, or any hope of peace in the future.
The Likud party is wracked by scandals. Mafia families have taken over Likud branches and had their representatives elected on the Likud slate. Vote buying in the Likud primaries was widespread. Sharon and his sons are under police investigation for suspected bribe taking in connection with Sharon's receipt of a loan from a South African millionaire and his son getting a job with a massive salary from a Likud hack turned millionaire.
How did Sharon win?
FIRSTLY THEIR was no credible opposition. Labour had been part of the outgoing national unity government and had provided no alternative to Sharon's military and economic policy. Labour's attempt to reinvent itself around their new and relatively unknown leader Mitzna, did not erase their past in the eyes of Israeli workers. The dovish Meretz party collapsed to six seats as their programme of negotiations is seen as having disastrously failed after the collapse of the Oslo 'peace' agreement.
Secondly, the vote was a reaction by ordinary Israelis to the terrorist bombings they have been subjected to.
Thirdly, Likud benefited from being seen as being opposed by the establishment. The Likud is a right-wing populist party, and while it is supported by a few maverick or more openly criminal capitalists, the capitalist class as a whole fear that the Likud's ultra-nationalist policies will destabilise the region and threaten their profits.
They prefer Labour and in this election pulled out all the stops in their attempts to undermine Likud's support. The front pages of the papers were full reports of Likud scandals, and leaked police investigations.
This had a certain effect in the opinion polls, which at one point saw Likud and Labour almost neck and neck. But traditional Likud supporters, the more downtrodden and alienated sections of the working class, saw this as an establishment witch-hunt against their party, and voted for their party on election day.
It would be a mistake to see the rise in the Likud vote as broad support for its policies. Its neo-liberal economic policy is hated. But as it is no different to any of the main parties, it was not an election issue.
There was a marked lack of enthusiasm for the elections and any of the parties. Car stickers or balcony posters were very rare. The ruling class are very worried that the decline in voter turnout will undermine the legitimacy of capitalist democracy in the eyes of ordinary Israelis. The head of the election committee suggested that non-voters should be fined.
HISTADRUTH LEADER Amir Peretz's One People party grew to four seats. Despite having done little since elected, the party was seen by many workers as a party which at least vocalises their grievances. The communist-led Hadash list also rose to four seats.
Two new anti-capitalist parties stood - Lahava, set up by unemployed activist Avi Ovadia and Zaam (fury), set up by community activists in a run-down town in the south of the country. Although they failed to get any seats at the first time of standing, they show that even in the midst of war and terrorist attacks, activists are looking for a political voice.
SHARON'S VICTORY will be a poisoned chalice for him. He has no answer to any of the aspects of the crisis. The first act of his new government will be to cut spending by a further NIS8bn to cover the growing budget deficit.
In his victory speech he said he hoped his government will last the full four year term. But this seems very unlikely. He has called for a new national unity government. Forming such a government will be complicated by the statements of the Labour leader that he would not enter such a government. With or without a unity government, Sharon's government will be one of war, crisis and increased instability.
DURING THE elections Maavak Sozialisti members distributed leaflets in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv which explained that these elections will not solve the problems of Israeli society. Instead they urged workers and young people to struggle against whatever capitalist government is formed in order to defend their interests. They linked this struggle to the need to establish a new workers' party.
In The Socialist 7 February 2003: