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Monday, May 12, 2008

Poll: Most want Olmert to resign; Kadima stays biggest party with Livni

YNet published a poll Monday morning that indicates that 59% of the country's population wants Prime Minister Ehud K. Olmert to resign immediately or at least suspend himself until the investigation into the bribery charges against him is completed. 60% of those surveyed believe that Olmert took bribes, while only 22% believe that he did not.

But the poll also shows that it's not time to pronounce the Kadima Achora party founded by Ariel Sharon and Olmert dead yet.
Should Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni head the party, she would defeat the Likud headed by Benjamin Netanyahu with 27 Knesset seats, compared to 23 Likud seats and 15 seats for the Labor Party.

Livni is also perceived by the public as the most suitable candidate to replace Olmert as Kadima's leader, leaving her opponents far behind. Kadima headed by Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz will only receive 17 Knesset seats, while Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit will bring the party down to only 13 seats, not far from its situation in the polls today.
In fact, Livni is the only one who beats the Likud according to the poll.

This is all quite curious because - pointedly - Livni has been the only Kadima minister who has not said a word in defense of Olmert. Aaron Lerner thinks it's because Livni is hoping that Olmert will be forced out and she will be named his replacement. I think there's more to it than that.

The country's attraction to Livni has nothing to do with her plan of action or anything else. It has to do with the fact that she is perceived as squeaky clean. Livni has never been investigated by the police, which is a rarity for a politician in this country. By contrast, Netanyahu has been investigated by the police many times, although they never succeeded in making anything stick. And Barak actually paid fines for his 1999 campaign to head the Labor party for election law violations.

Livni's problem is that the only way she is likely to be made Prime Minister would be if she succeeds Olmert by operation of law. As Deputy Prime Minister, the law provides that if Olmert resigns, Livni becomes Prime Minister for 100 days. That would likely make her Kadima's candidate. Otherwise, in a recent poll of Kadima candidates for Prime Minister Livni came in seventh behind Olmert, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit and even her own deputy Majallie Whbee.

The reason for Livni's lack of popularity is not a policy issue (although you all know I disagree with her vehemently on policy): At heart, she's not a politician.
Mofaz and Sheetrit, meanwhile, want to wait for elections because these two former Likud activists are busy doing what they used to do in the old party - signing people up to vote in the primaries. While they are getting old buddies to join Kadima for the primaries, Livni - for whom this type of work is anathema - is lagging far behind.
Perhaps that's why Livni gets along so well with Condi Rice - Livni would work better in the American system where foreign policy is run by foreign policy professionals and not by politicians for whom the foreign ministry is just another prize.

Again, this is not to say that I agree with Livni on policy issues or that I believe her to be competent. It's also not to say that I regard this poll (by Mina Tzemach) as necessarily reliable. We have all seen many Israeli polls that were way off base in the last fifteen years. But the Israeli public's desire for someone who is perceived to be an honest politician is understandable in the context of what has gone on here, particularly in the last fifteen years.

And that doesn't mean it's going to happen.

By the way, Herb Keinon at the JPost ties Livni's refusal to come to Olmert's defense into her position in the party in a very different way than Aaron Lerner does.
Livni is not Olmert's only rival - Barak, Mofaz and Sheetrit have all made clear that would like to unseat him. Yet only Livni has refused to throw him a public crumb of support. Why? The reason has to do with Livni's main - perhaps even only - real electoral asset: a perception of integrity. With the public scanning a field of what it increasingly views as corrupt politicians, she stands out - and wants to be perceived as standing out ˆ- as a flower among the thistles. In any election, either national or inside Kadima, this perceived integrity - not what she has achieved as a minister or accomplished as a politician - is her main asset.

Mofaz and Barak beat Livni in spades when it comes to diplomatic and security experience and knowledge; Sheetrit can run circles around her as far as political savvy and experience is concerned. The card she holds is that she is perceived as honest and trustworthy, and coming to Olmert's defense would risk bending this card.
I believe that Keinon has hit the nail on the head. And Livni will do all she can to protect that squeaky clean image. Including throwing Olmert under the bus.


At 12:32 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

I think even Tzipi Livni's foes like her straightforwardness. Its a change from the shifty politicians Israelis are so used to who will say and do anything to get elected and stay in power. I happen to disagree with her policies, which aren't very different from those of Olmert. Whether the country would get that kind of change integrity-wise is an open question since Olmert has done nothing to disprove the notion that if you can play off people against each other and keep them off balance, you come out ahead.


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