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COUNT THE BLANK BALLOTS


Tanya Reinhart

Never

was Israel further from democracy as it is in the coming elections. In the

polls, 60% of the voters wanted another candidate to run against the two

generals, but the political system, blatantly ignoring anything known about the

will of the majority, forced a choice between only two candidates, neither of

whom nears the majority of 50+%, required by law.

Less

than a month ago, we were still at the peak of the war hysteria which Barak and

his close military circle have generated. "I have not yet managed to

understand from Arafat that he is willing to acknowledge the existence of the

state of Israel" – he declared. The spirit of 1948 was thick in the air:

war with the occupied Palestinians, with the Israeli Palestinians, and "if

necessary" – with Syria and the whole Arab world. For the first time in his

cadence, Barak looked glowing and focused, like someone who has finally reach

self-realization.

This

dangerous and power-driven general is now being packaged as our savior the

knight of peace. And those who don’t want him, are stuck with Sharon.

We

reached this state through a long process of neglect of the basic values of

democracy. Formally, the elections system of Israel is similar to that in

France. There too, the law states that the (presidency) elections can be decided

on the first round only with absolute majority, namely, if there is a candidate

who got more than 50% of the votes. But there, there are always more than two

candidates. The underlying assumption is that the elections are the time at

which the society determines its way for the next few years.  If no

candidate has gained in advance the support of the majority, there should be a

second process of discussion and convincing, towards the second round.

But

in Israel, there is already a tradition of forcing a decision in the first

round. In the last, 1999, elections massive pressure was exercised on the other

candidates to withdraw before the first round. This time this was already

guaranteed at the start, with a hasty decision process, in a military style.

Still,

even under such circumstances, it would not have been possible in France to

force the voters to elect in a single round one of two hated candidates. Assume

that one candidate got 35% of the votes, and the other – 40%. The other 25%, who

object to both, casted a blank ballot. The result is that no candidate got the

required 50%, and a solution should be found in another round.

But

in Israel, at the eve of the 1996 elections, when Peres feared the blank ballots

which awaited him following his ‘grapes of wrath’ attack on Lebanon, he enforced

a regulation stating that the blank ballots are "disqualified",

namely, they are not counted in the total of which 50% is required. Thus, with

just one arbitrary law, the most essential principle underlying this system of

elections – that an absolute majority is needed to decide in the first round -

has simply vanished.

In

practice, it is because of this regulation that Peres lost the elections. 5% of

the voters, from the left, voted nevertheless blank. Had their votes been

counted, Netanyahu too would not have passed in the first round. Nevertheless,

the regulation stayed, like so many illegal regulations, so easy to pass in

Israel. In the present situation, those who do not accept the predetermined

choice generated by the power system face a clear verdict:

"disqualified" – out of the political game!

Why

should Barak worry about the smashing lack of support he encounters? The winner

will be the one who can get the peace-voters, and on this front, Barak believes

he is omnipotent.

It

is possible to pull out of one’s hat a new peace process. As in the case of

Syria, Barak can even instruct his aids to spread rumors about dismantling

settlements. As long as it’s all only in the media, and not in any written

document – why not? In any case, all that is being discussed is yet another

"framework" agreement for three to six years. Possibly, Arafat can be

forced again to sign, shake hands, and be photographed in peace positions, as he

was trained to do so well during the years of Oslo. To ease his way, the same

lies about 67 borders, or division of Jerusalem, can be recycled once again.

It

is a bit hard to believe that it will be possible, indeed, to sell the same lies

again after Syria, after Camp David, after the attack on the Israeli Arabs,

after Barak’s "There is no partner for peace" declarations, and while

in the territories, the Israeli army continues to starve, torture and

assassinate the Palestinians.

But

Barak knows that he is very well covered. At his service there is a government

that has long given up its right to be informed of his plans, and three loyal

peace parties – One Israel, Meretz, and Hadash (CP)- which will each explain to

the slice of population it is in charge of, that this time it is really peace

and we must vote Barak. He also has obedient media that will recycle happily the

praises of his new peace offers, and a battery of intellectuals who will prove

with a magic wand that we are only imagining that the king is naked.

If

Barak chooses indeed this scenario (rather than opting directly for war,

avoiding altogether the nuisance of elections), it is possible that, as the

jubilees of the elections peace fade away, we will find ourselves again with a

single ruler who consults only with the army, and who will, perhaps, try to

argue that he is not subjected to the parliament decisions because he was

crowned directly by the people.  And then it will just turn out that after

all, ‘there is no partner to peace and Arafat does not respect agreements’, and

we will go back to 1948.

But

before we complete this transition into a military dictatorship in parliamentary

disguise, it is still possible to go back to the spirit of democracy and the

law. It is necessary, first, to annul the shameful regulation disqualifying the

blank ballots, and let the voters decide. If there is no candidate with a 50%

majority, the process should be reopened, so we can have real elections.

 

 

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