Likud sees lead wilt as inquiry mounts into alleged vote buying.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
lies" having funded campaigns of Cabinet ministers
and Knesset members, and of "current or past crimi-
nals" who had hosted senior ministers at their homes
for lunch or dinner.
If the reports are true, would some of the Likud's
representatives in the Knesset or in the
Cabinet be beholden to their benefactors,
political observers asked.
Media reports in the wake of the scan-
dal were uniformly scathing. Chemi Shalev, an ana-
lyst for Mdariv, wrote, "There always was and always
will be corruption in politics, but in a place where rep-
resentatives of the underworld are elected directly to
the legislature, it's only a matter of time before the
pagan idol takes over the temple from within."
Labor, which did hold nationwide primaries for its
Knesset list and stood to gain most from the Likud's
embarrassment, has not emerged entirely unscathed.
Following a complaint from the Association for Good
Government, Israel's attorney general ordered a police
investigation into allegations of irregularities in two
Labor Druse precincts.
Labor members argue, however, that alleged voting
irregularities in just two of more than 600 precincts-
nationwide isn't akin to the large-scale buying and sell-
ing of votes by criminals.
The fact that both Likud and Labor are under investi-
gation could help smaller parties in the Labor's left-cen-
ter bloc, such as Shinui and Meretz, which have made
cleaner politics part of their campaign platforms. Both
Shinui and Meretz have been trying to pull
voters from the two larger parties, and are get-
ting set to play political hardball. They will be
0 helped by the fact that Likud and Labor will
fight viciously against each other.
ntil now, the Israeli election campaign has
seemed like a formality: The
only question seemed to be how
large a majority Likud Party
leader Ariel Sharon would win when the
ballots were counted. Not any more.
Pundits say a police investigation into allegations of
corruption in the selection of its Knesset candidates
could cost Likud enough seats to lose the election.
While the Labor Party is facing its own investigation,
analysts say the scope of the Likud scandal could be
enough to swing the Jan. 28 election to Labor.
According to the Likud's own internal polls,
the scandal — which broke last week with
allegations that aspiring Knesset members had
been asked to pay for political support —
already has cost Likud two or three seats. Party
insiders say the trend seems to be continuing.
Before the scandal,, polls showed the Likud's
The Likud had not planned on a negative
right-religious bloc leading Labor's left-center
campaign against Labor or its leader.
bloc by about 65 seats to 55, including parties
Campaign strategists argued that to attack
likely to join their coalitions. That means that
Mitzna, who is not so well known, would
a swing of just five or six seats from right to
give him free exposure. Now they have
left could make Labor Party leader Amram
changed their minds. Likud will attack
Mitzna prime minister, not Sharon.
Labor over the associations that helped
As Mitzna himself says, his dream is no
finance Ehud Barak's victorious prime min-
longer "pie in the sky."
isterial campaign in 1999, and which were
The trouble for the Likud started when
subsequently the subject of a wide-ranging
several defeated candidates went public with
stories of approaches from "vote contractors"
It also will attack Mitzna for an American
offering to deliver votes in return for cash.
bank account set up in his father's name —
There also were tales that members of the
apparently quite legally — to collect dona-
Likud Central Committee, the 2,940-mem-
tions, and anything else they can dig up.
ber body that chose the candidates, were
The Likud is seriously considering hiring
wined and dined by would-be legislators.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon addresses a gathering of American Jewish
American spin doctor Arthur Finkelstein,
A secretary for one candidate told Israeli
donors Dec. 12 in Jerusalem.
master of the negative campaign, who ran
Television that her boss had asked her to hint to
Binyamin Netanyahu's 1996 and 1999
Central Committee members that she would be
willing to have sex with them in return for their votes.
Labor is sure to keep the Likud bribery and cor-
"I placed a bumper sticker on my chest with my candi-
ruption allegations on the public agenda for as long
from nationwide primaries back to a system in which
date's name, and he used the sticker to hint to people
possible. The campaign still will focus primarily
the Central Committee chooses the party's Knesset
that I have what to offer and by showing me how to
Israel's security and economic problems, but it
list. Nationwide primaries would have put the decision
persuade people," the woman said, according to the
be accompanied by a degree of mudslinging no
Jerusalem Post. "People said, 'Give me something else
one anticipated this year.
and I'll give you the votes of my friends.'"
This is not what Sharon or some Labor leaders, like
difficult to put together decisive voting blocs.
Two members of the Central Committee were
former Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and
detained Monday and placed under house arrest
his camp, wanted. They had hoped for a relatively
smaller pool of 2,940 Central Committee members to
Tuesday by the Israeli police fraud division. Some of
quiet campaign, with the two major parties getting
make deals and deliver votes. Indeed, one of the Likud's
the money for this heavy-duty canvassing was
means to deflect the criticism has been to blame the sys- more than 60 seats in the 120-member Knesset and
believed to come from underworld figures, some of
being in a position to form a unity government imper-
tem. Sharon, in fact, lost no time in asking Justice
whom recently joined Likud.
vious to pressure from smaller, single-issue parties.
Minister Meir Sheetrit to suggest an alternative system.
The Likud scandal puts that two-party majority at
Likud spin doctors dutifully emphasized Sharon's
More importantly, it gives Labor a chance of
leading the next government.
Reports surfaced in the press about "criminal fami-