Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Livni Loses, But What About Kadima?

Yesterday, Israel's centrist Kadima party held primary elections.  The winner of the primary, by a landslide (61.7% of the votes), was Shaul Mofaz, an Iranian born former IDF Chief of Staff.  Tzipi Livni lost with roughly 37.8% of the vote.  Turnout was 40% of the Kadima party base.

The results are a clear loss for Livni, who has struggled to remain relevant throughout the Netanyahu administration.  As Leader of the Opposition, she made a number of speeches attacking Prime Minister Netanyahu, but gained little traction against his right-wing coalition.  Given Livni's prominence though much of the short history of the Kadima party (founded in 2005), her loss has raised questions about the vitality of the party more broadly.

While Shaul Mofaz brings a military background which Israelis generally admire, how he will lead the party has been the subject of much debate by pundits and analysts over the past 24 hours.  One of the major issues with which Mofaz may be contending is a defection by many MKs to more liberal-leaning parties, especially if Mofaz attempts to form a coalition government with the Netanyahu administration.  Many of Kadima's more left-leaning constituents may defect as well given Mofaz's more conservative leanings compared to Livni.

Realignment of the current governing coalition may be particularly important to consider given the way far-right parties have limited the power of the Likud party over the past few years.  Given the increasing popularity of the Labor party under its new leader, Shelly Yachimovitch, Netanyahu may have an interest in forming a unity government in order to deny the Labor party moderate voters.  

On the other hand, Netanyahu's coalition shows little sign of fracture in the immediate future, and he may use Mofaz's election as a chance to fracture the left wing and consolidate his own hold on power.  In the coming days, both Netanyahu and Mofaz will likely signal each other as to their intentions in this regard.

But the lesson on a more institutional level may be about the role centrist parties play in parliamentary politics, especially when they are introduced into parliamentary systems where no such party existed before. Are Kadima's constituents reacting primarily to the performance of party elites to garner influence, or are they reacting to a shift in political preferences?  Given the stability of PM Netanyahu's coalition versus the landslide outser of Tzipi Livni, the answer is likely the former.

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