Jewish Journal


March 15, 2013

Primaries vs. Backroom Deals and the Declining State of the Likud Party



The opening of the 19th Israeli Knesset. Photo by REUTERS.

At the moment, most of the political attention in Israel is rightly focused on the new coalition and on the new government (my comments on the matter are all here and the bottom line is hardly positive as far as PM Netanyahu is concerned). However, I wrote another article this week about the declining state of Netanyahu’s party (some of it is his own fault, but a lot of it isn’t). You can read it in full on nytimes.com- where it was originally posted- or make do with the following two paragraphs:

Likud’s liberals always struggled to live under the same tent as its populists. But for a long time, when the party’s leaders were in charge of selecting candidates for elections, the co-existence seemed mutually beneficial. The populists were expected to secure the votes of the masses, while the liberals gave Likud respectability. But when just before the 2006 elections, a system of primaries was introduced, popularity on the street became all-important. Since then, the liberals have lost ground within the party.

Now Likud no longer cares to listen to them at all. As I once wrote of some party members’ attempts to restrict the Israeli media by amending libel laws, the new Likudniks display “both the eagerness of the newly powerful and the vindictive frustration of the still-marginalized.” Aggressive, tone-deaf and with little patience for tradition, they dismissed Rivlin and Meridor for criticizing a wave of controversial laws. These modern-day Israeli Robespierres have sent the old Likud spirit to the guillotine.

If you suspect that I’m not quite impressed with the way the new Likud is handling its affairs you are correct… But what's the alternative?

Generally speaking, in the last elections Israeli voters shifted towards parties which are less democratic in the way they choose their representatives but – possibly as a result of that - have more impressive lists of candidates:

Yesh Atid is totally undemocratic, and its candidates were handpicked by Lapid. Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua also didn’t bother much with internal democracy. Naftali Bennet’s Habait Hayehudi is a mixed baggage, since the ultimate list is a result of the merger of two lists, one elected by members of the party (in primaries), and one elected by a “central committee” of the Tkumah party.

Should Israeli parties drop primary elections and return to the days of backroom deals when forming their lists? It’s a question that doesn’t have an easy answer. Obviously, democracy sounds better than backroom deals. Then again, the lists were more impressive when the professionals and the leaders- rather than primary voters- were making the decisions.

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