Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Election Theme turned out to be - Security and leadership

(Yossi Verter)-The election campaign for the 18th Knesset begins today. It will be quick; three weeks and a day. Whatever happened before December 27, the day the Gaza offensive began, does not matter. The campaign will last as long as the Gaza operation and wear the same khaki uniform.

It's amazing what three weeks can do. Before the fighting, the campaign dealt with issues that today are ancient history. Tzipi Livni was "a different leader," Ehud Barak was the butt of jokes in a satirical TV show, and Benjamin Netanyahu led a star cast while having it out with some guy named Feiglin. Remember?

The issue revolved around honesty, leadership and the economy. The security issue was hardly on the agenda. Honesty was the ace up Livni's sleeve. It was her territory. The economy was Netanyahu's miracle. Barak, on the other hand, was not a player. He had no territory. He searched for an agenda and appeared to be on the verge of leading Labor to an all-time low in the elections.

Today it's a different world. Security and leadership, especially at a time of crisis, have claimed center stage. Barak is enjoying unprecedented support, but mostly as defense minister, not as a potential prime minister. Netanyahu is feeling good. Hamas has always been his preferred field of play. In 2006 he talked about "Hamastan" and no one wanted to listen. Of the three it's Livni who has to make the biggest change - a veritable about-face.

Livni will try to stress her role in the decision-making troika that managed the Gaza campaign. In polls, security is not perceived as central to Livni's package. Will three weeks suffice to convince the public that she's a different Livni?

On the eve of the war, polls showed Kadima with 30 seats, Labor with eight to nine and Likud with 32. Now Labor has doubled its showing to 16, Likud is around 30 and Kadima has apparently lost five seats. Meanwhile, polls show that 20 to 30 seats will still be decided by the "undecided."