Israel’s general election is three weeks from today. The first opinion poll since the end of the Gaza war shows the right-wing opposition Likud still ahead.
The best way to view the poll and the trends is not at the Haaretz English link above, but at the Hebrew site, which has an interactive graphic. Not too much Hebrew is needed to navigate it, though someone with better Hebrew than I have might be able to help us figure out what the two bars mean. They refer to different version of the poll (Hebrew seker). The English article refers only to the blue bar, not the red one (which is the one labeled something like teleseker). The two variants differ from each other only by 1 seat in most cases.
You can place your mouse over the bars for any party to see a graphic that shows several polls, back to the last (2006) election.
At the graphic, the parties are arrayed as follows, from right to left (which actually has ideological meaning for the first three, but not after that): Likud, Kadimah, Avodah (Labor), Shas, Yisrael Beteinu, Meretz. I do not immediately recognize all of the smaller parties, except for Hadash and the two Arab parties that the Electoral Commission voted to ban (these are all in the inset for ‘extra’ parties–miflagot nosafot).
Of the Knesset’s 120 seats, Likud would win 29 or 28 seats (listing the “blue” poll first), followed by Kadimah* at 25 or 26, Labor at 16 or 17, Shas 8, YB 12 or 14, Meretz at 7 or 5, and no one else above 6 in either poll (though because of the need for multiparty coalitions, some of those smaller parties will matter to the eventual government).
Given the need for 61 seats if a government is to have a majority, and given that no party is likely to have more than a quarter of the seats, at least two of the three largest parties will be in government. The main questions thus are whether the PM is Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud or Tzipi Livni (the current Foreign Minister) of Kadimah, and who the coalition partners are.
Likud has held steady or declined a bit since the previous poll, conducted just a few days into the Gaza war. Kadimah has lost some ground. Labor, headed by current Defense Minister (and former PM) Ehud Barak, is a big gainer, having been at just 11 or 12 seats before the attacks on Gaza. Not surprisingly, Yisrael Beteinu (headed by Avigdor Lieberman, who equates Arab MKs with Hamas and talks of a “right of expulsion“), has also gained, too–almost as much as has Labor. Meretz, the most dovish party and one of the most left, has held steady, despite a position on the war that has been anything but.
* I know, it is usually spelled Kadima. But the word ends in a hei, after all!
Two noteworthy legislative elections are being held today, in El Salvador and the German state of Hesse. Both are of interest not only for what will happen today, but also for what they signal about upcoming elections.
Today Salvadorans go to the polls to elect the 84-seat Legislative Assembly and municipal posts throughout the country. The main thing to watch will be, how big are the gains for the FMLN (the ex-guerrilla leftist political party)? The party currently holds 32 seats (38%), and as I noted at the time of the last legislative elections, the country’s electoral politics has been in stasis since the negotiated end of the civil war in 1994. Will this be the election that breaks the stasis? Maybe, but there is a major caveat.
The last legislative election, in 2006, was held in the month of March. In fact, every legislative election back to 1952 has been held in March (except in 1960, when they waited till April). For that matter, every presidential election under the current constitution (1983) has been held in March (with a runoff in April or May, when needed). So why are Salvadorans going to the polls in January?
Presidential terms are five years and legislative terms three years, and so they will occur in the same year every 15 years. The last time elections to the two branches occurred in the same year–math whizzes will have recognized already that that was in 1994–they were on the same day in March. And therein lay a problem for the Salvadoran right.
The FMLN has been leading the polls in advance of this year’s presidential race for many months. To ward off a possible coattail effect, the center-right parties that control the legislature and presidency de-coupled the elections. So instead of a concurrent contest, El Salvador will have what I refer to as a “counter-honeymoon election” today. A legislative election shortly before a presidential election provides voters and party leaders with information, as CNN says in the opening paragraph of its news story on the elections:
El Salvador will elect more than 340 local and congressional officials Sunday, two months before the nation’s presidential election. But Sunday’s results could go a long way toward determining who that next president will be.
Well, actually, I think we already know–barring surprises–and as I suggested above, that’s precisely why these elections are today. But the general point is that these elections will either show the left as being more vulnerable than opinion polls and pundits suggest, or they will show the right what options it has to turn the tide by March.
It would be a surprise if the FMLN won a majority of seats today. It just might have had a shot at a majority (or close to it) had the legislative elections been left concurrent with the presidential race. But I would regard anything short of 39 seats for the FMLN as a victory for the right. Why 39? Because that is the highest seat total any party has won since the FMLN began competing in elections. More importantly, 39 was the total won by the long-ruling ARENA in 1994–in a concurrent election in which the ARENA presidential candidate won easily (49-25% in the first round, 68-32 in the runoff). That sort of presidential “pull” is exactly what ARENA wanted to prevent the FMLN from getting this time around.
The results of this election are already in, and the Christian Democratic Union (the party of federal PM Angela Merkel) has won “handily.” DW reports:
Near-complete returns show Merkel’s CDU, lead by Roland Koch, narrowly increasing their share of the vote to around 38 percent. The SPD suffered dramatic losses, slumping more than 13 percent to a historic low of just over 23 percent. Among the smaller parties, the liberal Free Democrats took 16 percent of the vote, their best result in Hesse in more than 50 years. The Greens had 14 and the Left Party five percent respectively. The CDU says it now hopes to form a coalition government with the FDP. Voter turnout was low at just 60 percent.
This election is of greater interest than a state election normally would be for two reasons. First, federal elections are due later this year, and this is one of the last states to be voting before the national electorate will go to the polls.1 With both the CDU (accompanied by its Bavarian partner, the Christian Social Union) and its partner in the federal “grand coalition,” the Social Democrats (SPD), less than eager to continue the current arrangement, this state result is a potential bellwether.
The second item of interest in this election is that the state had been to the polls just under a year ago. In the 2008 election, the CDU and SPD each had won 42 seats (out of 110) and the Left (based on a union of ex-communists with leftist who had split from the SPD) had a breakthrough, winning 6 seats. The Greens had 9 and the FDP 11. This result meant no majority for either a center-left or a center-right coalition unless the center-left coalition included the Left party.
Following the 2008 election, coalition bargaining took some time and ultimately produced a formula in which the SPD and Greens would govern with the outside support of the Left. Never mind that the SPD leader, Andrea Ypsilanti, had explictly promised in her campaign not to work with the Left. It was the only possible majority unless the Greens, CDU and FDP would work together (which was also discussed, but failed). And then the SPD caucus vetoed Ypsilanti’s plan. That display of unwillingness of the SPD to set the precedent, in the old West Germany, of cooperation with the Left set the stage for this re-run (with a new SPD leader).2
The CDU has to feel pretty good about its chances in the federal elections after waiting out the center-left divisions in Hesse.
1. There will also be elections in Brandenburg, Saarland, Saxony, and Thuringia on 30 August. Federal parliamentary elections will be 27 September.
2. This summary is based primarily on my recollections of coverage over several months at DW-TV’s Journal. See also the brief summary from AFP.
We are in the midst of a very unusual hot streak. For the seventh straight day here at Ladera Frutal, the high temperature passed 80 degrees (on the quaint Fahrenheit scale). This is quite a contrast with December, which featured seven straight days with a high below 60. I am not sure which 7-day streak would be rarer, but neither could be counted on to occur most winters. To have one such hot and one such “cold” streak in the same winter might just be unprecedented. (The December streak even featured a day when the high was only 49; that’s the only 24-hour period in the six-plus-year history of Ladera Frutal’s weather station to feature a high of less than 50!)
So the weather has been weird. And all this weirdness greatly confuses the fruit trees. There have been a few blooms sporadically on the Earlitreat peach since late December. This is not usually one of our first bloomers–it would usually start in mid-February after a few other peaches–but it always is the first ripener. One year it gave us fruit at the end of April. Maybe this year we’ll have peaches in March!
And I was out picking the sumptuous new crop of Page mandarins and suddenly my nose detected one of the most delightful of all fragrances. Could it be? Yes, there are a few blossoms on the Page! (Citrus usually start blooming after mid-March.)
There is still no sign of bud break on the usual first-bloomers: the Mesch Mesch Amrah plumcot, Newcstle apricot, Flavor Delight aprium, or Tropic Snow peach. (There have been blooms on the Anna apple, but that doesn’t count; that crazy no-chill apple always blooms in December.) But with such warm weather, I’ll be surprised if one of these is not beginning to bloom by the end of next week.
Of course a limiting factor in triggering blooms will be whether chilling requirements have been met. In fact, it is precisely to guard against too-early a bloom, with possible later freeze or frost damage, that deciduous fruit trees evolved their chilling requirements. If they have not had their chill needs met, they will hold off at least a little bit longer. But at some point, if the warmth continues, they’ll break dormancy anyway, but may not flower or fruit well.
Despite the warm spell, the chill count is pretty good, thanks to two factors: (1) that extraordinary cool week in December, and (2) the dry air. When the air is dry and there is no cloud cover, the nights can be chilly even when the days get quite hot. And it is with dry and cloudless nights that the full flowering, so to speak, of Ladera Frutal’s microclimates become apparent.
Up here at LF HQ, at one of the highest locations on the finca, the hottest day reached 89. That night it cooled to 56. Down the slope, at the coldest part, where all but the lowest-chill deciduous fruits are planted, the high was a bit lower, at 87. But the following night it got to 45. Yes, a 42-degree difference from high to low, and an 11-degree difference in low temperatures between the two locations! What a difference 100 or so feet of vertical change over 200 or so feet of horizontal can make! And in the protection of the big old grapefruit trees, the hedgerow (where I cheat on chill) stays cooler still: the hottest day was 83, rather than 87 or 89, and it is almost always 1-3 degrees colder at night. At times, even just shortly after sundown, we experience a 9- to 12-degree difference in temperature between the locations. Following Madison’s “scientific farming” principles, we have planted varieties in locations intended to maximize their microclimatic adaptation.
As a result of these microclimate effects and the dryness, the chill count is not too bad. Of course, it is not as good as the December cold seemed to promise, but it’s decent. By estimate it seems to have peaked around 310-320 at LF HQ, although we have been subtracting 15-22 hours a day during the hottest phase of the warm spell and now are probably under 250. By my understanding of chill models (and they are just models, not empirical descriptions) that means anything that needs 300 hours to bloom well would be OK, but anything requiring 400 would now need an additional 150, rather than 80-90 before it would be satisfied. Of course, anticipating that this part of the finca might often get under 300 chill hours, I have planted only low-chill varieties up here. (As well as tender subtropicals here and even higher, though that did not work out so well.)
Down in the corralito, at the lowest part of the finca, the chill count is much more impressive. We probably already had 265- 280 by the end of December, and with the impressive cold air drainage down the slope on these dry and cloudless nights, we have had very few significantly negative days. (In fact, at the coldest hedgerow location, none, unless you consider one night of an estimated -.25 chill hours to be “significantly negative.”) Thus down there the trees that are most exposed (to the air mixing of wind and to daytime sunlight) may have had no less than around 350 hours at their peak, while the more protected ones may have had as much as 375 even now (and counting!).
So as long as the heat wave breaks soon and we get even “normal” temperatures for a change, there remain grounds for optimism about the fruit season to come. The forecast calls for only moderate cooling for the next few days, but then a “pattern shift” by the middle of next week. If we are lucky, maybe the rains will return, too.
LK Advani is the BJP candidate for Prime Minister of India for elections due within a few months. He is, therefore, also the candidate of the National Democratic Alliance, the pre-electoral bloc led by the BJP. But Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, is a “star campaigner” among many BJP constituencies and he has “managed a show of support from captains of industry,” the Hindustan Times notes. However:
The allies who form the NDA will run away because of Modi’s record in handling Gujarat’s worst communal riots.
(I was trying to see how many inters and intras I could get into a single title!)
In the midst of campaigns, both electoral and military, some divisions are bound to appear:
On Tuesday, Olmert did not meet with his “troika” – Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, both of whom support a cease-fire. On Wednesday, he will not convene the political-security cabinet to discuss whether the operations should go on.
Ehud Omert, the PM, and Tzipi Livni, are in the same party–with Livni the Kadima leader heading into the 10 February parliamentary election. The other Ehud, Barak, is the Defense Minister and Labor’s candidate for prime minister.
A senior political source explained on Tuesday that even though Olmert holds a minority view in the troika, he holds the power because he decides when cabinet meetings will be held, and sets the agenda. The troika is a monitoring and coordinating body, and lacks the authority to broaden or end IDF operations. This can be done only by a cabinet vote.
Barak wants an immediate cease fire, but not withdrawal of current forces in the Gaza Strip, while an agreement is negotiated with the help of Egypt and the US. He is also worried about the other Bra(c)k, thinking Obama “will demand that Israel immediately cease the operation” when he becomes president on Tuesday. As for Livni, she wants the operation to end with no agreement negotiated. Olmert–who is not standing for reelection–wants to press ahead. And, as the above quote notes, he sets the cabinet’s agenda.
Barak presumably is worried about losing ground already gained in the campaign–the electoral campaign, that is. After an early surge for the Labor party as Operation Cast Lead began, there are recent signs of slippage.
There is something very calming about a deciduous orchard in winter. The trees are mostly bare, just waiting for spring.
The apples seem to think it is still fall.
In the eight days since I took these photos, winds have cleared off most of the remaining leaves. And it may not take long for signs of spring in the grove, given 80+ degree heat for now the third straight day. In fact, some signs of spring have already appeared. (More on that to come.)
As I noted last summer, we were fortunate enough to have an actual crop of ‘Hunza’ apricots on our 2-year-old tree. When I planted this variety, it was very much a low-expectation experiment. The Hunza comes from the high Himalayan valley of the same name, in Pakistan. Our sea-level and much milder climate would seem a poor match for such a plant.
But it has grown well, and in 2008, following a winter with unusually high chill for us, it actually set a few fruits. As reported previously, their taste is simply amazing!
The Hunza apricot is also justly famous for its tasty kernels. I had almost forgotten than I had put one away for later. Well, later finally came, and fortunately, that shell is an excellent container for sealing in freshness!
Pictured here, on the left, is the last of our finca-grown kernels, along with the shattered remains of the shell. On the right are some Hunza kernels purchased at a local store under the brand Himalayan Harvest.
This was the first time I had compared the taste of our own to the store-bought. Not surprisingly, the home-grown Hunza kernel was fresher tasting (even months from harvest), but it lacked the complexity of flavor of the Himalayan Harvest kernels. Climate and altitude do matter! Sometimes the purchased kernels have an almost amaretto-like flavor profile. Ours tasted more like a very rich and fresh almond; I mean, like the best almond I have ever tasted, but without the amaretto complexity. Here’s hoping we get more of our own in the coming summer, but in the meantime, I’ll be continuing to buy and enjoy the imported ones.
Astute observers of world politics might recall that the USA had an election for president and congress a while back. It got a fair amount of attention in the world media ten weeks ago today (it seems more like ten months!). One week from today, the newly elected president will actually be inaugurated. The newly elected congress finally convened just last week.
Eleven weeks from election to inauguration of a new president and nine weeks for congress. That is longer than in almost any country, and it is much too long. Consider some other prominent examples–and I will not pretend to be comprehensive, but I will restrict my examples to cases where an election produced alternation in partisan leadership of the executive branch. (Elections that produce continuity in countries where election and installation dates are flexible may bias the analysis in favor of short period between election and (re-)inauguration.) Following are selected cases, election date (via M. Herrera) and installation (inauguration, swearing-in, or whatever it might be called in a given case):
This semi-random (and probably not too unrepresentative) sample shows several transitional periods between election and installation ranging from a few days to a few weeks. It would be hard to find examples of longer interim periods than that employed by the USA: 77 days in the 2008-09 cycle. Colombia was the closest I found: 73 days, but Colombia’s transitional period has to account for the possibility of a runoff, which would have been on 16 June had it been necessary (resulting in a 52-day interim). Brazil’s 67 days–and this is following a runoff–also comes quite close to the US length.
Clearly there is a tendency for parliamentary systems to have shorter transitions than presidential, with the obvious caveat that in systems where coalitions must be bargained, there could be a lengthy caretaker period. The long presidential (and congressional) transition in the United States does not, of course, operate under any caretaker conventions. Perhaps it should. Lame-duck congresses and lame-duck presidencies are a democratic anomaly.
Some of the parliamentary systems listed above had transitions of less than a month and in some cases less than two weeks. New parliamentary governments involve one or more parties assuming power, with experienced legislators and “shadow” cabinet members assuming executive positions. It is plausible that presidential systems would need longer transitions–note not only Brazil and Colombia but also Nicaragua in the above list–because there is typically less of an existing team ready to take the reins. And while Ghana’s administration may be a good deal less complex to assemble than America’s (or Brazil’s) and thus their 11-day transition might be hard to emulate, we surely could do with less than 77 days.
The original US constitution did not specify a date for the installation of a new president, but Amendment XII, ratified in 1804, specified 4 March (even though elections have always been in early November). Only in 1933 did Amendment XX specify the current 20 January for the presidential inauguration, as well as 3 January for the convening of congress.
There is no reason why the transition should be so long. Perhaps some period in the range of 40 to 50 days is needed for the complex task of assembling a new US presidential administration, but not 70-80. And, regardless of the transition period for the presidency (and even if no one were to take seriously my offhand suggestion of the lame-duck president being somehow subjected to “caretaker” rules), there is certainly no reason why the new congress could not begin operation within two weeks or less of the election.
1. I love the headline: “Bolivian leader sworn in as the Left advances on US doorstep”!
I had recalled Argentina’s interim as being exceptionally long, but it is not. I remembered that Carlos Menem had been sworn in early in 1989 amidst an economic crisis. His inauguration was 8 July instead of the constitutionally provided 10 December. However, I had completely forgotten that the election had been held exceptionally early, on 14 May rather than in late October, as would have been the case normally. His transitional period was thus 55 days, whereas it had been 41 days for his predecessor, Raul Alfonsin, in 1983. Like the USA, Argentina at the time used an electoral college, which could be one “excuse” for a long transition. However, even after adopting a new constitution with democratic (i.e. direct) elections, Argentina had a 47-day transition for its first direct alternation in 1999.
Gideon Levy (one of my favorite Israeli columnists) on Ayman Mohyeldin (whom he describes as “My hero of the Gaza war”);
At age 29, he has already seen one war, in Iraq, but he says this war [in Gaza] is more intense. He is frustrated that his broadcasts are carried virtually everywhere in the world except the United States, his own country, the place he thinks it is most important that these images from Gaza be seen.
Frustrating indeed. As Levy notes about Mohyeldin’s employer:
Al Jazeera English is not what you might think. It offers balanced, professional reporting from correspondents both in Sderot and Gaza. And Mohyeldin is the cherry on top of this journalistic cream. I wouldn’t have needed him or his broadcasts if not for the Israeli stations’ blackout of the fighting.
I have watched a lot of news from many sources during these last two weeks of fighting in the Gaza Strip. The US media has been, unsurprisingly, embarrassingly bad. Unforgivably, horrendously bad. (Typical example: Corresponded in flak jacket on Israeli side of border saying “We can hear there is fighting over there.”) What Israelis are seeing from their own broadcasters could hardly be worse, but certainly is not better.
From my limited exposure (via Mosaic) I agree with Levy that Al Jazeera English is excellent and balanced. I would not necessarily say the same about the Arab language services (from which I get snippets, dubbed, also on Mosaic).
Visible here last night above the blueberries that are potted beneath the eaves of LF HQ, the first full moon following the winter solstice tells us two important things:
1. The Chinese New Year (4706, Ji Chou, a.k.a. the Year of the Ox) is fifteen nights away! Are the umes ready to bloom? (I had a beautiful pink one in our former place in Carlsbad that would probably be in bloom any day now–had the new heathen owners not cut it down.)
2. The New Year for Trees, Tu BiShvat 5769, is one month away! Given the cold late December and the warm early January (and with an assist from a leap year), I suspect the almond blooms will come out “on time” this year.
Hamas officials said that as of Friday they would not recognize Abbas’s status as president of the PA.
But they also made it clear that they would not demand his resignation for now “because of the war” in the Gaza Strip.
When should an election be held?
PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad told reporters on Thursday that the law calls for holding presidential and legislative elections simultaneously.
That could be so only if the law in question amended the Basic Law and extended the president’s term (or allowed for an interim unelected president, as implied below). The legislative term is also four years, but the current terms should be nonconcurrent, given that the Legislative Council was last elected in January, 2006.
Al Jazeera, last October, offered some further consideration of the legal question:
Hamas, citing a Palestinian law, said one of its own leaders must fill the top post after Abbas’s tenure officially expires on January 8. [...]
The Basic Law, a forerunner to a Palestinian constitution, says that both president and parliament are elected to four-year terms.
But a loophole in the law, which Fatah is relying on, suggests that Abbas’s term could be extended another year if it were deemed to be in the “national interest”.
Hamas and some Palestinian legal experts have openly challenged Abbas’s right to remain in power after the expiration of his term. [...]
According to the Palestinian constitution, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council is supposed to serve as acting PA president for a period of 60 days, after which presidential elections are to be held.
If the law indeed stipulates this procedure, then it would be Hamas that is entitled to hold the interim presidency as of today, given that it has the majority of seats in the Legislative Council. “National interest” loopholes are always convenient, especially now, when the two parties have other more pressing concerns.
The J-Post claims that “the military operation seems to have escalated tensions between the two parties, particularly following accusations by Hamas that Abbas and Fatah were “colluding” with Israel.” Driving a wedge between the two main Palestinian parties would no doubt be one of the Israeli government’s political aims in the current war. For now, at least, Abbas remains president under quite dubious legal grounds.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4