Tomorrow Kadima will pick someone to replace Ehud Olmert as party leader. Olmert will then quit, to the sound of 7 million people sighing in relief, and his replacement will get the chance to form a new government and become Israel’s prime minister. The method that Kadima will use to make this momentous decision is quaintly called a “primary” in our parts, and purports to be an election. If you believe that, we have a bridge to sell you in Alaska.
A total of 73,000 people are eligible to vote. That’s 2.3 of the total turnout in the 2006 national election, and about 10 percent of the number of people who voted for Kadima. But there’s no reason to think that people voting in the primary voted for Kadima in ’06, or have any thought of voting for the party in the next national election. A few might, who knows. If so, it’s by accident.
To vote, you have to be a dues-paying member of Kadima. But the members have mostly been signed up by so-called “vote contractors.” They want to do favors for the candidates so they can get favors back later. As party members, they want people with no particular opinions of their own, willing to vote as told. Some of people they’ve signed up are from Arab towns. Some may be ultra-Orthodox. Some, it’s said, are union members signed up by union officials. It’s not clear why union officials should care about the Kadima outcome, since the party has the same neoliberal, anti-labor economic policies as the Likud and half of Labor.
So while Tzipi Livni is far ahead in polls, the conventional wisdom is that Shaul Mofaz has been far more successful in signing up members who have the same relations to real grass roots that astroturf has to a living lawn. If Mofaz can get these movie extras to show up and if they perform as instructed, he wins. Those are big ifs. As a kid, I read a book that defined an honest politician as one who stays bought, but the Kadima voters have no reason to stay bought. Besides, Livni is getting help from Tzahi Hanegbi, who was handing out patronage long before Mofaz folded up his uniform. Forget the polls. Rolling dice will give you a better prediction of the outcome. Tossing darts blindfolded would be as effective a method of choosing a leader that represents the views of people who might actually vote Kadima, not to mention the views of the country, on who should be prime minister.
The so-called primary system was adopted in Israel in another one of the local fits of copying all things American, and copying them badly. The old system of smokefilled rooms was considered unrepresentative, so an even less representative system was designed. At least in Labor and the Likud, though, some voters in the primaries are actually party activists or supporters. Kadima, however, has no history. The party was invented before the last election as a vehicle for Ariel Sharon, who then had a stroke. It could quite literally be said that he bequeathed the party to Olmert in a fit of absent-mindedness.
The irony here is that a smokefilled room would actually yield a more democratic result. Knesset members and other prominent hacks, eager to maintain their power, would try to find the candidate that in their professional judgment would be most likely to please the national electorate. The random crowd that shows up tomorrow lacks even that measure of concern with satisfying the public.
In the meantime, South Jerusalem readers may enter their own random guesses at the outcome. The winner gets free access to this blog. Don’t be bashful. You have as much chance of being right as the pollsters. And take comfort in this: Even Shaul Mofaz is more qualified to be a national leader than Sarah Palin.