Tag: Democracy

TURKEY: WAFFLING BETWEEN DEMOCRATIC WEST AND DICTATORIAL EAST, INCHING TOWARD A TOTALITARIAN SULTANATE AND KEEPING THE KURDS AT BAY

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(Please Note: articles may have been shortened in the interest of space. Please click link for the complete article – Ed.)

 

Is Turkey Leaving the West?: Daniel Pipes, National Review, Feb. 7, 2013Recent steps taken by the government of Turkey suggest it may be ready to ditch the NATO club of democracies for a Russian and Chinese gang of authoritarian states.  Starting in 2007, Ankara applied unsuccessfully three times to join as a guest member the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (or SCO, informally known as the Shanghai Five).

 

In Turkey, AKP Proposes 'Elected Sultan Regime': Kadri Gursel, Al-Monitor, Feb. 12, 2013There has been a long-standing consensus among Turkey’s political parties, civic society and opinion leaders on eliminating the country’s authoritarian constitution — the legacy of a putschist military — and replacing it with a civilian, libertarian version.

 

Erdogan's Kurdish Issues: Morton Abramowitz, Jessica Sims, National Interest, January 28, 2013Turkey’s political discussion changes quickly. Yesterday it was mostly Syria. Today it is making peace with Kurds. That has been a boon to prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political standing—at least for the moment.

 

On Topic Links

 

Confronting Turkey: Editorial, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 5, 2013

Erdogan's Syria Policy: Wrong from the Start: Tulin Daloglu, Al-Monitor, Feb. 12, 2013

Why Turkey is Talking to its PKK Nemesis: Pelin Turgut, Time World, Jan. 15, 2013
Questions Obama Didn't Answer: Cengiz Çandar, Al-Monitor, Feb. 11, 2013

 

 

IS TURKEY LEAVING THE WEST?

Daniel Pipes

National Review, Feb. 7, 2013

 

Recent steps taken by the government of Turkey suggest it may be ready to ditch the NATO club of democracies for a Russian and Chinese gang of authoritarian states.  Starting in 2007, Ankara applied unsuccessfully three times to join as a guest member the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (or SCO, informally known as the Shanghai Five). Founded in 1996 by the Russian and Chinese governments, along with three former-Soviet Central Asian states (and in 2001 a fourth), the SCO has received minimal attention in the West, although it has grand security and other aspirations, including the possible creation of a gas cartel. It offers an alternative to the Western model, from forsaking NATO and democracy to displacing the U.S. dollar as the reserve currency.

 

After those three rejections, Ankara applied for “dialogue partner” status in 2011. In June 2012, it won approval. One month later, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reported his saying to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, “Come, accept us into the Shanghai Five [as a full member] and we will reconsider the European Union.” Erdoğan reiterated this idea on January 25, noting stalled Turkish efforts to join the EU: “As the prime minister of 75 million people,” he explained, “you start looking around for alternatives. That is why I told Mr. Putin the other day, ‘Take us into the Shanghai Five; do it, and we will say goodbye to the EU.’ What’s the point of stalling?” He added that the SCO “is much better, it is much more powerful [than the EU], and we share values with its members.”

 

On January 31, the foreign ministry announced plans for an upgrade to “observer state” at the SCO. On February 3 Erdoğan reiterated his earlier point, saying, “We will search for alternatives,” and praised the Shanghai group’s “democratization process” while disparaging European “Islamophobia.” But on February 4, President Abdullah Gül pushed back, declaring that “the SCO is not an alternative to the EU. . . . Turkey wants to adopt and implement EU criteria.” What does this all amount to?

 

The SCO bid faces significant obstacles. If Ankara leads the effort to overthrow Bashar Assad, it will cause problems, because the SCO firmly supports the beleaguered Syrian leader. NATO troops have just arrived in Turkey to man Patriot batteries protecting that country from Syria’s Russian-made missiles. More profoundly, all six SCO members strongly oppose the Islamism that Erdoğan espouses. Perhaps, therefore, Erdoğan mentioned SCO membership only to pressure the EU, or to offer symbolic rhetoric for his supporters.

 

Both are possible. But I take the half-year-long flirtation seriously for three reasons. First, Erdoğan has established a record of straight talk, leading one key columnist, Sedat Ergin, to call the January 25 statement perhaps his “most important” foreign-policy proclamation ever.

 

Second, as Turkish columnist Kadri Gürsel points out, “The EU criteria demand democracy, human rights, union rights, minority rights, gender equality, equitable distribution of income, participation and pluralism for Turkey. SCO as a union of countries ruled by dictators and autocrats will not demand any of those criteria for joining.” Unlike the European Union, Shanghai members will not press Erdoğan to liberalize but will encourage the dictatorial tendencies in him that so many Turks already fear.

 

Third, the SCO fits his Islamist impulse to defy the West and to dream of an alternative to it. The SCO, with Russian and Chinese as official languages, has deeply anti-Western DNA, and its meetings bristle with anti-Western sentiments. For example, when Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the group in 2011, no one refused his conspiracy theory about 9/11 being a U.S. government inside job used “as an excuse for invading Afghanistan and Iraq and for killing and wounding over a million people.” Many backers echo Egyptian analyst Galal Nassar in his hope that ultimately the SCO “will have a chance of settling the international contest in its favor.” Conversely, as a Japanese official has noted, “The SCO is becoming a rival block to the U.S. alliance. It does not share our values.”

 

Turkish steps toward joining the Shanghai group highlight Ankara’s now-ambivalent membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, starkly symbolized by the unprecedented joint Turkish-Chinese air exercise of 2010. Given this reality, Erdoğan’s Turkey is no longer a trustworthy partner for the West but more like a mole in its inner sanctum. If not expelled, it should at least be suspended from NATO.

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IN TURKEY, AKP PROPOSES 'ELECTED SULTAN REGIME'

Kadri Gursel

Al-Monitor, Feb. 12, 2013

 

There has been a long-standing consensus among Turkey’s political parties, civic society and opinion leaders on eliminating the country’s authoritarian constitution — the legacy of a putschist military — and replacing it with a civilian, libertarian version. The current constitution was drawn up under the tutelage of generals who toppled the civilian government in the 1980 military coup, and it was endorsed in a 1982 referendum by 92 percent of voters. Despite nearly 30 amendments since then, it has preserved its authoritarian spirit.

 

On Oct. 19, 2011, the four parties in Turkey’s parliament set up the Constitution Conciliation Commission as part of an agreement to scrap the existing ragbag constitution and to draft a new one that meets contemporary norms. Commission progress was initially slow. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), and the other two opposition forces — the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) — are all represented equally.

 

When the commission began to discuss core issues that would determine whether the new system would be a democracy, such as the constitutional setup of executive, legislative and judiciary powers, it became clear why the AKP felt the urge for a new constitution. In November, the AKP submitted a proposal outlining an authoritarian presidential system that subjugates the legislature to the executive power. With this proposal, the ruling party effectively destroyed the ground for any constitutional compromise with the CHP and the MHP.

 

It has long been known that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan aspires to abolish Turkey’s parliamentary regime, shift to a presidential system and become its first president. Let's look at what this proposal — drafted based on Erdogan’s wishes — would do.

 

The proposed constitution stipulates that elections for the single-chamber legislative assembly and the president, who holds the executive power, will be held on the same day. The clause is designed to ensure that the political tendency of the voters shapes simultaneously both parliament and the presidency, and that both elections eventually produce the same political outcome. As a result, the room for checks and balances between the legislative and executive powers is restricted from the very start….

 

Under the AKP proposal, the president is entitled to extraordinary powers — including dissolving parliament, calling parliamentary and presidential elections, and governing the country through presidential decrees that evade legislative processes. Under the proposal, the president holds such extensive powers over parliament that the presidency is capable of blocking virtually any legislation. If the president is unhappy with a given bill and returns it to parliament, the legislature can pass the bill unchanged and send it back for ratification only with a three-fifths majority. A simple majority is enough for the procedure under the current constitution.

 

On Feb. 5, the AKP submitted a further proposal for the judicial section of the new constitution, demonstrating that Erdogan also aspires to eliminate the separation of powers — an indispensable principle of democracy….Under the plan, seven members would be elected by parliament, while the president would directly appoint another seven. The proposal means that a total of 14 board members would be determined by the political authority, as parliament's picks are by simple majority — in other words, the governing majority. As a result, the political authority takes full control of the HSYK, a strategic body that shapes the judiciary. This would entirely eradicate judicial independence.

 

The Constitutional Court, which is supposed to keep the government under constitutional supervision, would face a similar fate under AKP proposals. Under the existing system, three of the 17 court members are elected by parliament from among several candidates. The president names the remaining 14 members — four of them by his own choice, and 10 from among candidates nominated by the higher judicial organs.

 

Under the AKP proposal, parliament elects nine of the Constitutional Court members, and the president picks directly another eight. The higher judicial organs make no nominations. If members of the Constitutional Court were determined directly by the political authority, it would become almost impossible for this body to exert any supervision over the executive power and the quasi legislature.

 

In sum, Erdogan’s a-la-carte presidential system would eradicate the separation of powers and concentrate all power in the hands of a single person. It makes it impossible for institutions to fulfill their duties of checks and balances.

 

If this proposal becomes Turkey’s new constitution, Turkey will no longer be a democracy. It's a proposal for an authoritarian regime with an “elected sultan” ruling Turkey. To make it happen, the AKP has to bargain and hammer out a deal with the Kurdish party, and then ensure that more than 50 percent of the people vote “yes” for the new constitution at a referendum, scheduled to be held no later than the last quarter of 2013.

 

Kadri Gürsel is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse and has written a column for the Turkish daily Milliyet since 2007.

 

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ERDOGAN'S KURDISH ISSUES

Morton Abramowitz, Jessica Sims

National Interest, January 28, 2013

 

Turkey’s political discussion changes quickly. Yesterday it was mostly Syria. Today it is making peace with Kurds. That has been a boon to prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political standing—at least for the moment.

 

2012 marked the AKP’s ten-year anniversary as the ruling party, a rare feat in Turkish politics. The party has been one of the few constants in a new, more vital Turkey. But it was a difficult year for Erdogan because of Syria’s unending civil war. After a year of intense criticism over his handling of Syria, including from members of his own party, Erdogan’s political fortunes seemed to be suffering.

 

For the first time, the prime minister was losing public support, and his effort to constitutionally change Turkey’s political system to a powerful presidential one was running into trouble. More specifically, Erdogan had little to show for his efforts to bring down Assad: more than 150,000 Syrian refugees in camps, another 80,000 in Turkish towns and cities, an ever-rising budgetary bill and no sign that his former friend Bashar al-Assad would go. Even worse, the removal of Assad’s forces from Kurdish-inhabited areas allowed the PKK’s Syrian offshoot to gain dominance and perhaps the ability to create another Kurdish autonomous zone in a new Syria.

 

None of this has changed—if anything Syria is worse—but the mood in Turkey has changed. Erdogan’s political standing received a major bump when he announced that the government had resumed discussions with the PKK’s only leader ever, Abdullah Ocalan. More impressive, he allowed Kurdish parliamentarians to meet with Ocalan for the first time after 14 years of solitary imprisonment. His effort won endorsement across the political spectrum (except for the nationalists) and served to deflect criticism over the continuing Syrian disaster. Turkey has turned hopeful that, however great the uncertainties, talks with Ocalan can morph into a sustained negotiation to end the fighting and address the demands of Turkey’s large Kurdish population. The AKP’s approval rate remains over 50 percent.

 

The peace process is inherently difficult. The bona fides of both sides remain to be proven, emotions are deep, and the cohesion of the PKK is uncertain. But regional events can sharply intrude on that process and on Erdogan’s efforts to change the political system: the crisis in Syria could worsen even if Assad goes, with greater sectarian bloodletting; there is the prospect of more refugees, and an uncertain future for the Kurds in a destroyed Syria; and perhaps more immediately, the deepening crisis over Iraq’s unity and the future of its quasi-independent Kurdish area.

 

Syria’s descent into civil war has been enormously costly for Turkey and for Erdogan. Syria marked the end of Turkey’s “zero problems” policy, but more than that revealed the limits of Erdogan’s influence in the Middle East. This contrasted badly with the image of respected deal-maker that Erdogan tried to cultivate.

 

Erdogan was forced to abandon his early briskness toward Turkey’s traditional security alliance and instead hoped to persuade Obama to get rid of Assad. Help didn’t come and he felt somewhat abandoned, leaving Turkey to deal with Syria on its own.

 

But he came to see the need to draw closer to NATO and asked for and received Patriot missiles with little domestic protest. Once sceptical of NATO missions and his Western bona fides questioned abroad, Erdogan’s marked change confirmed the value he came to place on the U.S. connection despite its inaction on Syria.

 

His public plea for more assistance opened a new line of criticism, this time from his brethren in the Islamist media who questioned how Erdogan could be both a partner in NATO intervention in Syria and the voice of Arab democrats. Many also questioned the wisdom of putting all eggs in the Assad-must-go basket, while the political opposition hammered Erdogan for failing to keep Turkey out of the Syrian crossfire, stop the refugee exodus and show some progress. Erdogan will initially benefit politically from Assad’s departure no matter how it happens….

 

In a post-Assad Syria, Erdogan will probably put his weight behind the Sunnis, who his religious base also supports. Turkey could find itself in the uncomfortable position of backing a Muslim Brotherhood government influenced by Saudi or Qatari money and more radical than it would like. This would put it at odds with the U.S. vision of a moderate, inclusive government in which the Kurds have a bigger say.

 

The fate of the Syrian Kurds will directly impact on Erdogan’s own handling and control of his domestic Kurdish peace process. The PKK, with a safe haven across Turkey’s border, could be a direct security threat to Turkey and one Erdogan wants to avoid. He boldly put down a red line that Turkey would not accept any autonomous Kurdish area in Syria—but whether he can prevent one is uncertain. An unruly battle between Kurds and Assad’s successors over a second autonomous Kurdish region on Turkey’s border could be politically corrosive for Erdogan and Turkey, particularly if it comes in the middle of Turkey’s own Kurdish peace efforts.

 

A more immediate pressing regional concern for Turkey is the steady political disintegration of Iraq and the possible emergence of an independent Kurdish state. Iraq is increasingly divided on sectarian lines. Turkey’s relations with the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) have grown close and Ankara is supporting the Kurds in their deepening disputes with Baghdad over the direct export of oil and Kurdish claims to the Kirkuk region.

 

Turkey has become bitterly opposed to Prime Minister Malaki and fearful of Iranian domination of Iraq. The Turkish government has made it clear that the Iraqi political problem is Malaki’s dictatorial approach; he must be removed if Iraq is to remain united. This has put Turkey at odds with the United States, which believes that Malaki is central to preserving a united Iraq. Thus, Turkey has an anomaly: it wants to keep Iraq united for fear of the impact of an independent Kurdish state on Turkey’s own Kurds, but is at the same time contributing to Iraq’s dissolution. It also has to be concerned that Arab Iraq would fight to prevent the Kurdish region from exiting Iraq.

 

Erdogan’s political future has a lot riding on events in Syria and Iraq. His Syrian policy continues to cost him politically. His vast improvement of relations with the KRG has become popular and very profitable for Turkey, which has been crucial in helping transform the Kurdish region. But the possibility of a breakthrough on the century-old Kurdish question, however difficult, has made those issues increasingly important. Negotiations with Ocalan and the Kurds will be long and the prospects for success remain dubious, but as long as progress seems to be made through the first half of this year, Erdogan may be able to get his constitutional changes with help from Kurdish parliamentarians—instead of, as he originally planned, from his now antagonistic nationalists….

 

The Kurdish issue in Turkey has now become an American problem as well. The United States has stayed always away from the issue, except to give considerable support to Turkey’s efforts to destroy the PKK in northern Iraq. But what the United States does on Syria and Iraq may now directly affect Turkey’s internal situation. Today, Washington is not on the same page with Turkey over Iraq and quite possibly also over Syria—if and when Assad goes. For the first time, the United States will need a region-wide Kurdish policy. U.S.-Turkey relations might become a little tense.

 

Mort Abramowitz, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, is a former ambassador to Turkey. Jessica Sims is a research associate at The Century Foundation.

 

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Confronting Turkey: Editorial, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 5, 2013How can one explain the reticence of the US and other Western powers in the face of Turkey’s aggressive declarations? On Saturday night, Ahmet Davutoglu, foreign minister of Turkey, a country that is a member of NATO and a candidate to join the EU, threatened to launch a military offensive against Israel, an important US ally.

 

Erdogan's Syria Policy: Wrong from the Start: Tulin Daloglu, Al-Monitor, Feb. 12, 2013How far can goodwill get you? If it is supported by facts and grounded in actions, perhaps as far as you want it to. If not, remain alert. Take for instance, the trouble caused for Turkey by the “zero problems with neighbors” policy of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
 

Why Turkey is Talking to its PKK Nemesis: Pelin Turgut, Time World, Jan. 15, 2013Turkey’s government revealed earlier this month that it had begun talks with Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader serving a life term on an island prison. These talks are aimed at establishing a ceasefire and eventual disarmament of the PKK, in exchange for addressing unspecified Kurdish grievances.
 

Questions Obama Didn't Answer: Cengiz Çandar, Al-Monitor, Feb. 11, 2013If anyone is looking for clues about the current state of Turkish-American relations, the Feb. 10 issue of the Milliyet daily presents an opportunity. The importance of those relations is not limited to the bilateral level; they carry significance for the whole Middle East region and even for the international system in general. 

 

 

 

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ISRAEL’S COMING ELECTION: DESPITE WILD CARDS, 
NETANYAHU’S BLOC STRONGER, OPPOSITION LEADERLESS

 

 

Articles:

Netanyahu Faces Wild Cards in Early Elections

The Israeli government has called a general election for Jan. 22, and polls suggest Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist-religious coalition is likely to win a renewed majority — but an array of wild cards make the outcome of this campaign unpredictable nonetheless….

Ha’aretz poll: Netanyahu Beats Election Rivals, Right-wing Bloc Grows Stronger
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no serious challenger in the next election, political experts said, after he launched the campaign for the 19th Knesset on Tuesday. A poll carried out for Ha’aretz on Wednesday appears to confirm this.

A More Realistic Electoral Reform Plan
It’s that time of the year again when voters’ minds begin to think about “What if?” What if we had a better election system? What if our representatives were elected from districts instead of nationwide?

 

 

On Topic Links

 

 

Murdoch: 'Nightmare for Israel' If Obama Wins

Candidly Speaking: On Israeli Racism and Democracy

Netanyahu: My Gov't Brought Security Back To Israel
 

 

NETANYAHU FACES WILD CARDS IN EARLY ELECTIONS

Dan Perry

Times of Israel, Associated Press, October 15, 2012

 

The Israeli government has called a general election for Jan. 22, and polls suggest Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist-religious coalition is likely to win a renewed majority — but an array of wild cards make the outcome of this campaign unpredictable nonetheless….

 

The vote also comes at a pivotal point in the increasingly acrimonious cultural clash between Western-oriented liberals and Netanyahu’s resilient alliance of social conservatives, security hawks and fundamentalist Jews.

 

That dichotomy is mirrored in Israel’s traditional electoral map, a bewildering affair that nonetheless reduces to two rival “blocs” vying for 61 out of 120 Knesset seats — the threshold needed to form a government.

 

The “left” bloc, historically led by the Labor Party, wants the West Bank and Gaza — captured from Jordan and Egypt respectively in the 1967 war — either traded for peace or separated from Israel in some other way to protect a Jewish majority within “Israel proper.” Jews currently make up about three-quarters of Israel’s population, but when the West Bank and Gaza are included, the breakdown between Jews and Arabs is close to 50/50. Smaller dovish groups and parties from Israel’s Arab minority are also in this bloc.

 

The “right” bloc is led by Netanyahu’s Likud, which historically has been hostile to territorial concessions. Netanyahu now says he is ready for a limited Palestinian state in some of the West Bank — yet his government continues to build Jewish settlements deep inside it and few take him at his word. Rounding out the bloc are even more nationalist groupings and religious parties eager to deepen the Jewish character of the state.

 

Polls suggest the right could win about 65 Knesset seats — a near-default majority that has mostly held for decades, built in part by the demographic advantage of a religious minority with high birthrates….The new campaign presents a significant number of wild cards that could affect the result:

 

THE CENTER

 

Popular dissatisfaction with the left-right dichotomy occasionally gives rise to “centrist parties” that claim they might align with either bloc. But these days such parties — whose support and makeup generally reflects the secular and Westernized side of Israel — find their natural location with the left, as Kadima did, and amount to a device for taking votes from the right.

 

The newest centrist offering is Yesh Atid (There Is A Future), built around the popularity of 49-year-old Yair Lapid — a former TV news anchor, talk show host, newspaper columnist, movie star, mystery novelist and amateur boxer. Polls show he could lead one of the largest parties, with up to 19 seats. Depending on whom he chooses to run by his side, he seems to have a shot at taking votes from the right.

 

A RIVAL

 

Whereas Netanyuahu is unchallenged in his bloc, the left is splintered into at least three mid-sized parties: a somewhat resurgent Labor, with former journalist Shelly Yachimovich as its leader, running mostly on social issues such as redistribution of wealth; Kadima, now led by the relatively unpopular former military chief Shaul Mofaz; and Yesh Atid.

 

There is tremendous pressure on them to unite, driven by the idea that this would change the psychology of the race and draw support greater than the sum of the left’s current parts. Indeed, a poll in the Jerusalem Post found that a unified party would outpoll Likud and become the largest party.

 

Would that be enough to crack the advantage of the wider right bloc? That may depend on whether a galvanizing figure is brought in to lead it.

 

The current speculation focuses on an Olmert comeback, which he is believed to be considering and which would be a gamble. Forced from office four years ago by a corruption scandal, he has been cleared of most charges but still faces trial in a bribery case. The backup is Tzipi Livni, Olmert’s foreign minister and a former Kadima leader — who is also said to be mulling the creation of yet another centrist party.

 

THE GENERAL

 

Gabi Ashkenazi, who was military chief until last year, is so popular that it is generally accepted that the recent law freezing top security officials out of politics for three years after their retirement was formulated mostly to keep him from leading the left against Netanyahu — and so in popular parlance it bears his name.

 

Taciturn and tough-looking, with security credentials and of politically useful mixed European and Middle Eastern heritage he is believed to have strong appeal to the right. The much-discussed scenario has him campaigning for the left under the understanding that if the bloc wins it would repeal the “Ashkenazi Law” and appoint him defense minister.

 

DEFECTIONS

 

Although the right bloc has propped Netanyahu nicely for four years, two potential defections exist. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, head of the mid-sized Yisrael Beiteinu party, is an aggressive nationalist who nonetheless took part in the last Kadima government, is bitter about a years-long corruption investigation, and harbors ambitions of leading the right bloc that suggest an interest in seeing Netanyahu go down. And Arieh Deri, the only major ultra-Orthodox leader who is seen as moderate on the Palestinians, is returning to politics after a jail spell and a long hiatus; if he is not reinstated as head of the religious Shas Party many expect him to run against it, taking some of its dozen-odd seats and possibly delivering them to the left.

 

IRAN

 

Some in Netanyahu’s circle cast the election as a referendum on attacking Iran — or at least on Israel’s right to act militarily to prevent the Islamic Republic from achieving nuclear weapons capability. Normally, on security issues, Israelis do turn hawkish at the polls.

 

But this one is complicated: The security establishment considers the talk of an attack reckless and seems to oppose the idea; much of the world is arrayed against the notion, seeking more time for economic sanctions to force Iran’s hand; and polls show the Israeli public — fearing a massive counterstrike including missiles on their cities and mayhem on their borders — opposes any move that is not coordinated with the United States. It could make very uncomfortable campaigning for Netanyahu.

 

IT’S THE ECONOMY

 

Netanyahu supporters nonetheless hope the election hinges on the usual strategic issues, especially the Palestinians. On that well-worn ground, Likud is helped by the perception here that the Palestinians are sticking to unreasonably maximalist positions — including a division of Jerusalem that would mean a potentially tense border running right through the downtown of the holy city.

 

But if the left can change the discourse, Netanyahu is vulnerable on two issues.

 

So many Israelis are unhappy with the economy — surprisingly good macroeconomic figures alongside tremendous income gaps and widespread poverty — that a social protest movement largely aimed against the government last year sent hundreds of thousands to the streets. If this becomes an election issue it could galvanize the left vote — which historically, unlike the disciplined masses of the religious right, tends to be lazy on election day.

 

And Netanyahu is dangerously exposed on the question of ending the current system of draft exemptions for tens of thousands in the burgeoning ultra-Orthodox minority — ordered earlier this year by the Supreme Court, supported by most Israelis, and largely ignored by his government. The secular majority, including many on the right, is increasingly alarmed by Orthodox efforts to segregate the sexes in public, their widespread reliance on state handouts, and their school system, which turns out Torah scholars who know little English or math and have few skills for the work world. Netanyahu’s utter dependence on their parties’ votes for the right bloc’s majority could focus minds, drive away the center and amount to his Achilles’ heel in this campaign. (Top of Page)

 

HAARETZ POLL: NETANYAHU BEATS ELECTION RIVALS,
RIGHT-WING BLOC GROWS STRONGER

Yossi Verter

Ha'aretz, October 11, 2012

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no serious challenger in the next election, political experts said after he launched the campaign for the 19th Knesset on Tuesday. A poll carried out for Ha’aretz on Wednesday appears to confirm this.

 

The poll, conducted by Dialog under the supervision of Professor Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University, shows that Netanyahu easily defeats all his possible rivals from the center-left bloc. As far as the public is concerned, Netanyahu is deemed much more suitable for post of prime minister than any of his potential rivals.

 

At the same time, the Likud-right wing-ultra-Orthodox bloc has increased its strength to 68 Knesset seats, while the center-left bloc has gone down to 52, compared to the blocs' respective strength in the outgoing Knesset and the previous poll.

 

The candidate with the highest support after Netanyahu is Tzipi Livni, who has retired from political life. However, Livni, who is considering a return, fails to muster more than half of the support attributed to Netanyahu (57 percent – 28 percent ).

 

Ironically, Livni, who failed as Kadima's leader in the opposition, lost to Shaul Mofaz in the party primaries and was ousted from the political arena by her party members, is the leading opposition candidate. Kadima members may regret voting for Mofaz as their party leader in March. No wonder many of them are hoping that she or Ehud Olmert will return. Or even both of them.

 

Support for the remaining potential candidates – former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who hasn't decided yet whether he's throwing his hat in the ring, Atzmaut leader Ehud Barak, Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz and Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich – is not impressive. The poll results lead to the conclusion that Netanyahu will be the next prime minister.

 

The poll…shows that support for Netanyahu is even stronger than it was in the previous poll some two weeks ago. Asked about their satisfaction with Netanyahu's performance as prime minister, 45 percent of the interviewees were satisfied and 45 percent were dissatisfied, marking a 15 percent improvement from the last poll, in which only 38 were satisfied compared to 53 who were not. The improvement in Netanayhu's position likely results from his presentation at the UN and perhaps from his announcement of early elections.

 

While the Likud receives a few more Knesset seats and Labor a few less, Yair Lapid is considerably stronger, according to this poll. Ehud Barak's Atzmaut Party does not obtain the minimum required votes to enter the Knesset.  Future polls are expected to examine the repercussions of a party led by Olmert on the political map. However, in view of the right wing bloc's strength, it is hard to imagine Olmert, with or without Livni, attracting enough cross-over votes from the right.

 

If Olmert joins the campaign, he will no doubt affect the power balance in the center-left bloc dramatically. Yacimovich will weaken, Lapid will weaken even more. Mofaz will probably have to renounce his place as Kadima leader. It is not clear, however, whether this will change the outcome for Netanyahu.  (Top of Page)

 

 

A MORE REALISTIC ELECTORAL REFORM PLAN
David Gleicher

Jerusalem Post, October 14, 2012

 

It’s that time of the year again when voters’ minds begin to think about “What if?” What if we had a better election system? What if our representatives were elected from districts instead of nationwide? In response, “good government” groups and political parties propose various electoral reform ideas, all of them doomed to go down in flames because the reformers forget a basic rule of politics (and of life, I suppose): No one is going to vote to put themselves out of a job.

I’m not against electoral reform. In fact, as a former participant/member of the Cook County Democratic Party (a.k.a. the “Machine”), I believe in the late Mayor Richard J. Daley’s adage, “Good government is good politics.” But you’ve got to be realistic about what you can accomplish.

In light of that, I propose an electoral reform plan that can maybe, just possibly, pass, because, counter-intuitively, it adds 30 more Knesset seats, thus preserving the jobs of many current MKs. Here’s how it would work:

1: Israel would be divided into 25 electoral districts of roughly equal population. The districts would be drawn by a committee consisting of Knesset representatives, judges and respected “public” members to be chosen by the president. The committee would be instructed to keep districts compact and neighborhoods intact in order to prevent American-style gerrymandering.

Each district would elect three representatives. However, no more than two of a district’s representatives could be from the same party. A voter would have three votes at his disposal. S/he could give one candidate all three votes or split the votes between two candidates or give three candidates one vote each. This will prevent one party from dominating any single district….

2: The other 75 seats would be voted on as we do now, as a national ticket. However, the threshold requirement would be 4 percent of the vote, giving a party three seats. This would still give the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Arab parties representation in the Knesset, but would force other smaller parties to consolidate or die.

3: The head of the national ticket (that is, the non-district seats) would be that party’s candidate for prime minister. However, if a party gets fewer than 25 “national” seats, its candidate for prime minister would be forced into a runoff against the second-highest party’s candidate.

Unlike today, the winner would automatically be named prime minister for a four-year term. To give the government stability, a no-confidence vote in the government’s first year would require 100 votes; in the second year, 90 votes; in the third year, 80 votes; and in the fourth year, a mere majority.

4: Cabinet members would be appointed by the prime minister and approved by the Knesset. However, a cabinet minister or deputy minister could not also serve as a Knesset member. That would enable ministers to concentrate on their ministries, not general Knesset affairs.

In addition, while Knesset members from districts will receive an office allotment and funds for a secretary and aide, MKs elected on the party slate, not having district responsibilities, will be allotted only one secretary and share a receptionist with other MKs. Another advantage: With the increase in numbers of MKs, each one will have fewer committee assignments, allowing the MK to concentrate on that committee’s work.

The raising of the Knesset from 120 to 150 seats will be controversial, but it is a necessary price to get this proposal passed because it would still give smaller parties representation. And we would not be “over-represented.”

According to research done by former Jerusalem Post executive editor Amotz Asa-El in his must-read study of Israeli electoral reform (“Israel’s Electoral Complex,” Azure Magazine, Winter, 2008), mixed legislative systems used in other western countries have the following legislators per citizen: Finland and Sweden have about 26,000 citizens per legislator, Denmark has 29,000, New Zealand has 31,000, and Austria has 32,000. Right now there is one Knesset member for every 62,500 Israelis. The change would make it one MK per 50,000 Israelis, still fewer legislators than the countries listed above.

Politics is the art of compromise. Add 30 more legislators and maybe we get reform. I think it’s worth the price. And when former Ra’anana mayor Ze’ev Bielski realizes that he could easily run and win from a Ra’anana district more easily than as a generic Kadima member, and when Tzipi Hotovely realizes that her Rehovot neighbors will vote for her without the need to deal with Likud vote contractors, we may see MKs come to the same conclusion that “Good government is good politics.” (Top of Page)

_______________________________________________________

 

Murdoch: 'Nightmare for Israel' If Obama Wins: Paul Scicchitano, Newsmax, October 14, 2012

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch tweeted on Saturday that it would be a “nightmare for Israel” if President Obama is re-elected to a second term.

 

Candidly Speaking: On Israeli Racism and Democracy: Isi Leibler, Jerusalem Post, October 10, 2012

Nothing makes us cringe more than screaming headlines reporting racist outbursts or hate crimes in our own country. No matter how rare, such acts not only shame us but encourage us to ask ourselves how such obscene behavior could occur in the homeland of the Jewish people which itself endured 2,000 years of persecution and humiliation in the Diaspora.

 

Netanyahu: My Gov't Brought Security Back To Israel: Jpost Staff, Jerusalem Post, October 15 2012
PM addresses Knesset, officially asking to advance elections to January 22, 2013, making his case to be reelected; says, "anyone who underestimates the threat a nuclear Iran poses to Israel is not worthy to be PM."

ISRAEL’S COMING ELECTION: DESPITE WILD CARDS, 
NETANYAHU’S BLOC STRONGER, OPPOSITION LEADERLESS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Articles:

Netanyahu Faces Wild Cards in Early Elections

The Israeli government has called a general election for Jan. 22, and polls suggest Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist-religious coalition is likely to win a renewed majority — but an array of wild cards make the outcome of this campaign unpredictable nonetheless….

Ha’aretz poll: Netanyahu Beats Election Rivals, Right-wing Bloc Grows Stronger
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no serious challenger in the next election, political experts said, after he launched the campaign for the 19th Knesset on Tuesday. A poll carried out for Ha’aretz on Wednesday appears to confirm this.

A More Realistic Electoral Reform Plan
It’s that time of the year again when voters’ minds begin to think about “What if?” What if we had a better election system? What if our representatives were elected from districts instead of nationwide?

 

On Topic Links

 

Murdoch: 'Nightmare for Israel' If Obama Wins

Candidly Speaking: On Israeli Racism and Democracy

Netanyahu: My Gov't Brought Security Back To Israel
 

 

NETANYAHU FACES WILD CARDS IN EARLY ELECTIONS

Dan Perry

Times of Israel, Associated Press, October 15, 2012

 

The Israeli government has called a general election for Jan. 22, and polls suggest Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist-religious coalition is likely to win a renewed majority — but an array of wild cards make the outcome of this campaign unpredictable nonetheless….

 

The vote also comes at a pivotal point in the increasingly acrimonious cultural clash between Western-oriented liberals and Netanyahu’s resilient alliance of social conservatives, security hawks and fundamentalist Jews.

 

That dichotomy is mirrored in Israel’s traditional electoral map, a bewildering affair that nonetheless reduces to two rival “blocs” vying for 61 out of 120 Knesset seats — the threshold needed to form a government.

 

The “left” bloc, historically led by the Labor Party, wants the West Bank and Gaza — captured from Jordan and Egypt respectively in the 1967 war — either traded for peace or separated from Israel in some other way to protect a Jewish majority within “Israel proper.” Jews currently make up about three-quarters of Israel’s population, but when the West Bank and Gaza are included, the breakdown between Jews and Arabs is close to 50/50. Smaller dovish groups and parties from Israel’s Arab minority are also in this bloc.

 

The “right” bloc is led by Netanyahu’s Likud, which historically has been hostile to territorial concessions. Netanyahu now says he is ready for a limited Palestinian state in some of the West Bank — yet his government continues to build Jewish settlements deep inside it and few take him at his word. Rounding out the bloc are even more nationalist groupings and religious parties eager to deepen the Jewish character of the state.

 

Polls suggest the right could win about 65 Knesset seats — a near-default majority that has mostly held for decades, built in part by the demographic advantage of a religious minority with high birthrates….The new campaign presents a significant number of wild cards that could affect the result:

 

THE CENTER

 

Popular dissatisfaction with the left-right dichotomy occasionally gives rise to “centrist parties” that claim they might align with either bloc. But these days such parties — whose support and makeup generally reflects the secular and Westernized side of Israel — find their natural location with the left, as Kadima did, and amount to a device for taking votes from the right.

 

The newest centrist offering is Yesh Atid (There Is A Future), built around the popularity of 49-year-old Yair Lapid — a former TV news anchor, talk show host, newspaper columnist, movie star, mystery novelist and amateur boxer. Polls show he could lead one of the largest parties, with up to 19 seats. Depending on whom he chooses to run by his side, he seems to have a shot at taking votes from the right.

 

A RIVAL

 

Whereas Netanyuahu is unchallenged in his bloc, the left is splintered into at least three mid-sized parties: a somewhat resurgent Labor, with former journalist Shelly Yachimovich as its leader, running mostly on social issues such as redistribution of wealth; Kadima, now led by the relatively unpopular former military chief Shaul Mofaz; and Yesh Atid.

 

There is tremendous pressure on them to unite, driven by the idea that this would change the psychology of the race and draw support greater than the sum of the left’s current parts. Indeed, a poll in the Jerusalem Post found that a unified party would outpoll Likud and become the largest party.

 

Would that be enough to crack the advantage of the wider right bloc? That may depend on whether a galvanizing figure is brought in to lead it.

 

The current speculation focuses on an Olmert comeback, which he is believed to be considering and which would be a gamble. Forced from office four years ago by a corruption scandal, he has been cleared of most charges but still faces trial in a bribery case. The backup is Tzipi Livni, Olmert’s foreign minister and a former Kadima leader — who is also said to be mulling the creation of yet another centrist party.

 

THE GENERAL

 

Gabi Ashkenazi, who was military chief until last year, is so popular that it is generally accepted that the recent law freezing top security officials out of politics for three years after their retirement was formulated mostly to keep him from leading the left against Netanyahu — and so in popular parlance it bears his name.

 

Taciturn and tough-looking, with security credentials and of politically useful mixed European and Middle Eastern heritage he is believed to have strong appeal to the right. The much-discussed scenario has him campaigning for the left under the understanding that if the bloc wins it would repeal the “Ashkenazi Law” and appoint him defense minister.

 

DEFECTIONS

 

Although the right bloc has propped Netanyahu nicely for four years, two potential defections exist. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, head of the mid-sized Yisrael Beiteinu party, is an aggressive nationalist who nonetheless took part in the last Kadima government, is bitter about a years-long corruption investigation, and harbors ambitions of leading the right bloc that suggest an interest in seeing Netanyahu go down. And Arieh Deri, the only major ultra-Orthodox leader who is seen as moderate on the Palestinians, is returning to politics after a jail spell and a long hiatus; if he is not reinstated as head of the religious Shas Party many expect him to run against it, taking some of its dozen-odd seats and possibly delivering them to the left.

 

IRAN

 

Some in Netanyahu’s circle cast the election as a referendum on attacking Iran — or at least on Israel’s right to act militarily to prevent the Islamic Republic from achieving nuclear weapons capability. Normally, on security issues, Israelis do turn hawkish at the polls.

 

But this one is complicated: The security establishment considers the talk of an attack reckless and seems to oppose the idea; much of the world is arrayed against the notion, seeking more time for economic sanctions to force Iran’s hand; and polls show the Israeli public — fearing a massive counterstrike including missiles on their cities and mayhem on their borders — opposes any move that is not coordinated with the United States. It could make very uncomfortable campaigning for Netanyahu.

 

IT’S THE ECONOMY

 

Netanyahu supporters nonetheless hope the election hinges on the usual strategic issues, especially the Palestinians. On that well-worn ground, Likud is helped by the perception here that the Palestinians are sticking to unreasonably maximalist positions — including a division of Jerusalem that would mean a potentially tense border running right through the downtown of the holy city.

 

But if the left can change the discourse, Netanyahu is vulnerable on two issues.

 

So many Israelis are unhappy with the economy — surprisingly good macroeconomic figures alongside tremendous income gaps and widespread poverty — that a social protest movement largely aimed against the government last year sent hundreds of thousands to the streets. If this becomes an election issue it could galvanize the left vote — which historically, unlike the disciplined masses of the religious right, tends to be lazy on election day.

 

And Netanyahu is dangerously exposed on the question of ending the current system of draft exemptions for tens of thousands in the burgeoning ultra-Orthodox minority — ordered earlier this year by the Supreme Court, supported by most Israelis, and largely ignored by his government. The secular majority, including many on the right, is increasingly alarmed by Orthodox efforts to segregate the sexes in public, their widespread reliance on state handouts, and their school system, which turns out Torah scholars who know little English or math and have few skills for the work world. Netanyahu’s utter dependence on their parties’ votes for the right bloc’s majority could focus minds, drive away the center and amount to his Achilles’ heel in this campaign. (Top of Page)

 

HAARETZ POLL: NETANYAHU BEATS ELECTION RIVALS,
RIGHT-WING BLOC GROWS STRONGER

Yossi Verter

Ha'aretz, October 11, 2012

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no serious challenger in the next election, political experts said after he launched the campaign for the 19th Knesset on Tuesday. A poll carried out for Ha’aretz on Wednesday appears to confirm this.

 

The poll, conducted by Dialog under the supervision of Professor Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University, shows that Netanyahu easily defeats all his possible rivals from the center-left bloc. As far as the public is concerned, Netanyahu is deemed much more suitable for post of prime minister than any of his potential rivals.

 

At the same time, the Likud-right wing-ultra-Orthodox bloc has increased its strength to 68 Knesset seats, while the center-left bloc has gone down to 52, compared to the blocs' respective strength in the outgoing Knesset and the previous poll.

 

The candidate with the highest support after Netanyahu is Tzipi Livni, who has retired from political life. However, Livni, who is considering a return, fails to muster more than half of the support attributed to Netanyahu (57 percent – 28 percent ).

 

Ironically, Livni, who failed as Kadima's leader in the opposition, lost to Shaul Mofaz in the party primaries and was ousted from the political arena by her party members, is the leading opposition candidate. Kadima members may regret voting for Mofaz as their party leader in March. No wonder many of them are hoping that she or Ehud Olmert will return. Or even both of them.

 

Support for the remaining potential candidates – former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who hasn't decided yet whether he's throwing his hat in the ring, Atzmaut leader Ehud Barak, Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz and Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich – is not impressive. The poll results lead to the conclusion that Netanyahu will be the next prime minister.

 

The poll…shows that support for Netanyahu is even stronger than it was in the previous poll some two weeks ago. Asked about their satisfaction with Netanyahu's performance as prime minister, 45 percent of the interviewees were satisfied and 45 percent were dissatisfied, marking a 15 percent improvement from the last poll, in which only 38 were satisfied compared to 53 who were not. The improvement in Netanayhu's position likely results from his presentation at the UN and perhaps from his announcement of early elections.

 

While the Likud receives a few more Knesset seats and Labor a few less, Yair Lapid is considerably stronger, according to this poll. Ehud Barak's Atzmaut Party does not obtain the minimum required votes to enter the Knesset.  Future polls are expected to examine the repercussions of a party led by Olmert on the political map. However, in view of the right wing bloc's strength, it is hard to imagine Olmert, with or without Livni, attracting enough cross-over votes from the right.

 

If Olmert joins the campaign, he will no doubt affect the power balance in the center-left bloc dramatically. Yacimovich will weaken, Lapid will weaken even more. Mofaz will probably have to renounce his place as Kadima leader. It is not clear, however, whether this will change the outcome for Netanyahu.  (Top of Page)

 

 

A MORE REALISTIC ELECTORAL REFORM PLAN
David Gleicher

Jerusalem Post, October 14, 2012

 

It’s that time of the year again when voters’ minds begin to think about “What if?” What if we had a better election system? What if our representatives were elected from districts instead of nationwide? In response, “good government” groups and political parties propose various electoral reform ideas, all of them doomed to go down in flames because the reformers forget a basic rule of politics (and of life, I suppose): No one is going to vote to put themselves out of a job.

I’m not against electoral reform. In fact, as a former participant/member of the Cook County Democratic Party (a.k.a. the “Machine”), I believe in the late Mayor Richard J. Daley’s adage, “Good government is good politics.” But you’ve got to be realistic about what you can accomplish.

In light of that, I propose an electoral reform plan that can maybe, just possibly, pass, because, counter-intuitively, it adds 30 more Knesset seats, thus preserving the jobs of many current MKs. Here’s how it would work:

1: Israel would be divided into 25 electoral districts of roughly equal population. The districts would be drawn by a committee consisting of Knesset representatives, judges and respected “public” members to be chosen by the president. The committee would be instructed to keep districts compact and neighborhoods intact in order to prevent American-style gerrymandering.

Each district would elect three representatives. However, no more than two of a district’s representatives could be from the same party. A voter would have three votes at his disposal. S/he could give one candidate all three votes or split the votes between two candidates or give three candidates one vote each. This will prevent one party from dominating any single district….

2: The other 75 seats would be voted on as we do now, as a national ticket. However, the threshold requirement would be 4 percent of the vote, giving a party three seats. This would still give the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Arab parties representation in the Knesset, but would force other smaller parties to consolidate or die.

3: The head of the national ticket (that is, the non-district seats) would be that party’s candidate for prime minister. However, if a party gets fewer than 25 “national” seats, its candidate for prime minister would be forced into a runoff against the second-highest party’s candidate.

Unlike today, the winner would automatically be named prime minister for a four-year term. To give the government stability, a no-confidence vote in the government’s first year would require 100 votes; in the second year, 90 votes; in the third year, 80 votes; and in the fourth year, a mere majority.

4: Cabinet members would be appointed by the prime minister and approved by the Knesset. However, a cabinet minister or deputy minister could not also serve as a Knesset member. That would enable ministers to concentrate on their ministries, not general Knesset affairs.

In addition, while Knesset members from districts will receive an office allotment and funds for a secretary and aide, MKs elected on the party slate, not having district responsibilities, will be allotted only one secretary and share a receptionist with other MKs. Another advantage: With the increase in numbers of MKs, each one will have fewer committee assignments, allowing the MK to concentrate on that committee’s work.

The raising of the Knesset from 120 to 150 seats will be controversial, but it is a necessary price to get this proposal passed because it would still give smaller parties representation. And we would not be “over-represented.”

According to research done by former Jerusalem Post executive editor Amotz Asa-El in his must-read study of Israeli electoral reform (“Israel’s Electoral Complex,” Azure Magazine, Winter, 2008), mixed legislative systems used in other western countries have the following legislators per citizen: Finland and Sweden have about 26,000 citizens per legislator, Denmark has 29,000, New Zealand has 31,000, and Austria has 32,000. Right now there is one Knesset member for every 62,500 Israelis. The change would make it one MK per 50,000 Israelis, still fewer legislators than the countries listed above.

Politics is the art of compromise. Add 30 more legislators and maybe we get reform. I think it’s worth the price. And when former Ra’anana mayor Ze’ev Bielski realizes that he could easily run and win from a Ra’anana district more easily than as a generic Kadima member, and when Tzipi Hotovely realizes that her Rehovot neighbors will vote for her without the need to deal with Likud vote contractors, we may see MKs come to the same conclusion that “Good government is good politics.” (Top of Page)

_______________________________________________________

 

Murdoch: 'Nightmare for Israel' If Obama Wins: Paul Scicchitano, Newsmax, October 14, 2012

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch tweeted on Saturday that it would be a “nightmare for Israel” if President Obama is re-elected to a second term.

 

Candidly Speaking: On Israeli Racism and Democracy: Isi Leibler, Jerusalem Post, October 10, 2012

Nothing makes us cringe more than screaming headlines reporting racist outbursts or hate crimes in our own country. No matter how rare, such acts not only shame us but encourage us to ask ourselves how such obscene behavior could occur in the homeland of the Jewish people which itself endured 2,000 years of persecution and humiliation in the Diaspora.

 

Netanyahu: My Gov't Brought Security Back To Israel: Jpost Staff, Jerusalem Post, October 15 2012
PM addresses Knesset, officially asking to advance elections to January 22, 2013, making his case to be reelected; says, "anyone who underestimates the threat a nuclear Iran poses to Israel is not worthy to be PM."