Israeli parties gear up for general election 2009-02-06 06:45:09   Print

    by Deng Yushan, Claire Ben-Ari

    JERUSALEM, Feb. 5 (Xinhua) -- With only five days away from the general election, Israeli political parties are exhausting every possible means to reach out to voters and gather momentum for their bids for the premiership and parliamentary seats.

    From Youtube channels, blogs and cellphone ring tones to TV programs and newspapers, and from buses and buildings to bumper stickers and T-shirts, statements, advertisements and slogans can be seen everywhere.

    The Likud party, which recent polls showed that it would win out in the Feb. 10 polling, concentrates its efforts to showcase the experience of its chief Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, a former prime minister, as a national leader.

    In a campaign that obviously resembles the one that sent Barack Obama to the White House, the 60-year-old premiership hopeful is giving speeches in the Obama style, and its team has designed a website also in the Obama style.

    Meanwhile, the 36-year-old center-right group, home to outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Netanyahu's main rival, before they broke away and joined the Kadima party, is also using trendy media to the limit, including offering cellphone users downloadable ring tones.

    In a no less vigorous campaign, the centrist Kadima party, whose name literally means moving forward, is trying to convince the Israeli public that its leader Livni, who was actively involved in the resumed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks during the past year and considered to be a pragmatist, is able to lead the Jewish state.

    Nine years younger than Netanyahu, Livni succeeded Olmert as the Kadima chief in September and missed an opportunity to become the second woman premier in Israel's history during the following month.

    Her team and herself stressed that she is the best candidate to cooperate with Obama, leader of Israel's main backer, who was believed to apply an evener-handed approach to the unwieldy Mideast conflict than his predecessor George W. Bush.

    "Believni," says the slogan on T-shirts Livni's campaign is handing out across Israel, which also reminds of the Obama shirts in the United States.

    Another headline maker is Avigdor Lieberman, head of the ultra-nationalist Israel Beiteinu party, who emerged as a dark horse following the recent Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip, from which hard-liners seemingly garnered more political gains than others did.

    Some surveys showed that the far-right party, which apparently holds a rather tough position on the peace affairs, would overtake the Labor party and become the third largest party in the new parliament. "Lieberman, I believe him!" say some large conspicuous streamers hung at buildings near a main entrance to Jerusalem.

    Although recent polls augured ill, Labor chief and Defense Minister Ehud Barak remains a weighty competitor in the race. As national security is a key concern in the Jewish state, Barak's campaign focuses on his experience as army chief, defense minister and prime minister.

    In what could be seen as public approval of his qualifications, surveys found that after the Gaza offensive, more votes are expected to go to Labor than before the operation. "In the moment of truth, Barak," says his campaign catchphrase.

    While highlighting themselves, the parties also staged negative campaigns against each other, with the most notable between Likud and Kadima.

    In a controversial billboard ad that was withdrawn after being accused of sexism, the Likud party said of the female rival that "It is too big for her." In response, Kadima issued bumper stickers and erected billboards saying "Bibi? I don't believe him."

    The gender problem can also be sensed elsewhere. On some election posts in Jerusalem, Livni's face was scratched out or painted over, while her male rivals were left untouched. Police said that the vandalism may have been motivated by anything from politics to religious extremism or gender discrimination.

    The ultra-Orthodox community considers it immodest to post in public pictures featuring women and has records of defacing such images.

    Besides the four leading parties, 30 other groups are also running, and their guidelines range from socio-economic issues to environmental protection, and even include a bid to legalize the usage of opium. Some of them are new and small, yet with governmental fund, they all can get their share of advertisement on TV and newspapers.

    Imprinting marks of the modern era, campaigners also resort to Youtube, blogs and other fashionable means to attach themselves to as many voters as possible. In a sign of the importance of such efforts, Israel's TV Channel 2 is using Youtube extensively for election updates and interviews.

    Some 5.3 million Israelis are eligible to vote, of whom a fairly large portion remain undecided. To their assistance, the Israeli Democracy Institution has launched the "2009 Israel Election Compass" program, which offers an online questionnaire to help voters find out which parties best match their views. 

Editor: Mu Xuequan
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