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Israeli Voters View Olmert As A Competent C.E.O. Who Can Cope

Electorate Turned Off By Traditional Labor & Likud Ideology

However Kadima Worried About A Low Turn-out Of Voters; Terror Attack Like This Weeks Failed Suicide Bombing Could Affect Election Outcome

Olmert and Sharon

Israeli voters are about to go to the polls in one of the strangest elections in the countrys history. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Kadima is frontrunner to win the election on March 28th with Labors Amir Peretz and Likuds Binyamin Netanyahu trailing far behind. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who bolted the Likud to form Kadima, remains in a coma at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem after suffering a stroke three months ago.

:: IsraCast Audio ::

Ehud Olmert fills the role as the ultimate C.E.O. and that he is why he will likely win the election on March 28th. All the opinion polls tell the same story Olmert's Kadima party will take more Knesset seats than any other. It comes as no surprise because this has been an election for the acting PM to win or lose after Ariel Sharon's stroke.

Case in point: Olmert has just announced that he will promote Foreign Minister Zippi Livni as acting prime minister in the new cabinet. By promoting Livni, arguably the most popular politician in Israel today, Olmert gets more credit for good-decision making. In addition, Olmert has also proved to be a good C.E.O. by keeping his high-powered staff of Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, former Shabak director Avi Dichter and even Shimon Peres purring along in the campaign without any major hitches. This is easier said than done and Olmert has passed the test with flying colors. Nor has Olmert been accused of exploiting his position to make political capital by launching risky operations in the counter- terror campaign. On the contrary, the recent Jericho operation was even praised by the opposition. The violent clash with settlers at the illegal outpost of Amona has not had a damaging impact. Israelis hanker for hope in light of the stark reality of Hamas and his unilateral retrenchment gives them that. The fact that nobody really knows if its feasible doesn't seem to matter at this stage.

Sharon's Shadow: This election campaign has been conducted in the shadow of Ariel Sharon. There can be no doubt that Sharon shattered the gridlock between right and left in Israeli society. The ultimate right-wing leader jettisoned the Likud's Land of Israel ideology by evacuating the Gaza Strip and four settlements on the West Bank. Sharon could not have done so without the support of mainstream Israel. Olmert has proved to many voters that he is capable of carrying on this pragmatic policy. According to the latest polls only about forty or so of the newly elected 120 MKs would be solidly against another unilateral withdrawal on the West Bank. In fact, the lack of excitement and a low voter turnout probably indicate that Israelis are sick of the left and right wing ideologies. They prefer the pragmatism initiated by Sharon and continued by Olmert. And if this is so, its hard to get worked up about an election of Chief Executive Officer, like Olmert who is a far cry from the charismatic Sharon. This could be a problem for Olmert because a low turn out of Kadima supporters would favor other parties. But what of the other two main contenders, why are they still trailing so badly?

Labors Amir Peretz: the fiery former trade union boss got off to a fast start boosting Labor in the polls from 19 to 27. But his pitch for social justice soon waned as Hamas and the Iranian nuclear threat soared. His greatest mistake was not making Shimon Peres and/or Ehud Barak an offer they could not refuse to support his campaign? Peretz has failed to project himself as a candidate who could cope with Israels foreign affairs and security issues. On this score, Labors platform smacks of a re-cycling of the Oslo process that has disillusioned most voters.

Likud's Netanyahu: Bibi is responsible for Sharon's bolting the Likud and now has to live with the consequences. If the polls are accurate that means a dismal 15 seats or so. In addition, the former finance minister has alienated low-income Likud voters by not easing off his economic belt tightening. He has been trying to form a blocking majority of right wing and religious parties. The idea is that they would recommend that President Katzav call upon Netanyahu to try and form a new coalition government. His gambits chances are rated at slim to none.

The Likud proposes hunkering down along the current lines on the West Bank with no more withdrawals. The IDF would be ordered to clobber the Palestinians. Even if most voters have no idea of what Olmert means by his retrenchment plan they hope it can improve the situation. Although Palestinians are launching Qassam rockets from the area Israel evacuated in the Gaza Strip, the public apparently believes it was worthwhile to pull out and have not been moved by the Likud's scare tactics.

The Far Right: The National Union and Israel, Our Home are the only two parties that have aroused gung-ho enthusiasm for their ideologies. They have outflanked the Likud on the right wing and could wind up with a total of 20 seats or so.

So, barring unforeseen circumstances, Israeli shareholders are apparently about to select Ehud Olmert and his Kadima management team when they cast their ballots on March 28th. They'll do so without the former enthusiasm of past elections but with the hope C.E.O. Olmert and company will succeed in maximizing Israels political gains. This, in an operating environment of Palestinian suicide bombers and the Iranian nuclear threat.

Footnote: A Palestinian suicide bomber with his explosives was intercepted this week on his way to blow up Israelis. The Shabak Security Service warns that more are on the way with the goal of disrupting Israels election. A suicide bombing just before or on Election Day could severely influence the outcome. Just ask Shimon Peres, he says he lost one election to the Likud after a horrific bus bombing.

David Essing

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