Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Welcome to Jerusalem, Mr. Mugabe

By Shaun Meller

Bibi Netanyahu is well known for many things, not least of which is his very public persona as Israel’s Prime Minister and for being an author who has written extensively on terrorism, and has offered his view of Israel as having “A Place Among the Nations” (published April 1, 1993). Somehow, I doubt that the place Bibi had in mind was sitting comfortably next to his counterpart, Robert Mugabe, the President (and erstwhile monarch) of Zimbabwe. After all, one wouldn’t think the two countries have much in common.

Mineral exports, agriculture, and tourism are the main foreign currency earners of Zimbabwe. The mining sector remains very lucrative, with some of the world's largest platinum reserves. Other than the recently discovered natural gas deposits off the coast of Haifa, the long-standing joke is that 
G-d chose to give to the Jews the one patch of land in the entire Middle East WITHOUT oil (or any other natural resources for that matter). Instead, Israel has relied on its deep reservoir of intellectual capital, which is something Bibi was instrumental in exploiting as Finance Minister. Just recently, it’s been noted that Israel has amongst the highest educated population in the world with 45% of Israelis completing university degrees, ranking ahead of Japan (44%), the US (41%) and the UK (37%).

Zimbabwe is the economic poster child of abysmal failure. Per Wikipedia, “Inflation rose from an annual rate of 32% in 1998, to an official estimated high of 11,200,000% in August 2008 according to the country's Central Statistical Office. This represented a state of hyperinflation, and the central bank introduced a new 100 billion dollar note. As of November 2008, unofficial figures put Zimbabwe's annual inflation rate at 516 quintillion percent, with prices doubling every 1.3 days.” By contrast, Israel’s economy is one of the exceptionally few that has withstood the recent worldwide financial crisis with a GDP growth rate expected to be more than twice that of the US, and an unemployment rate of less than half that of the US.

Despite these and other gaping differences, there is something significant about this fourth-world, land-locked African country that Bibi shares in common - the electoral system. In the recent Likud elections, Bibi suddenly announced that 30 days hence he would put up for contention his own seat atop the Likud list. With such a short time to the election, there was virtually no chance for any contender, but for Moshe Feiglin, to present a coherent and organized opposition. The only reason why Feiglin was prepared to do so is because of his savvy recognition of Bibi’s party politics and anticipation of his tactics. It’s the equivalent of the “quick pitch” in baseball - the sudden, unexpected throw meant to catch a hitter off-guard and unprepared, but have it still count as a legitimate “strike.” It’s a cowardly move, as was the unfolding of the rest of the election by Bibi’s henchmen - but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Although Mr. Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980(!), again from Wikipedia, “Presidential elections were again held in 2002 amid allegations of vote-rigging, intimidation and fraud. The 2005 Zimbabwe Parliamentary elections were held on 31 March and multiple claims of vote rigging, election fraud and intimidation...General elections were again held in Zimbabwe on 30 March 2008. The official results required a runoff between Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader; the MDC challenged these results, claiming widespread election fraud by the Mugabe government. The runoff was scheduled for 27 June 2008. On 22 June, citing the continuing unfairness of the process and refusing to participate in a "violent, illegitimate sham of an election process", Tsvangirai pulled out of the presidential run-off, the ZEC held the run-off and President Mugabe received a landslide majority.”

And thus Mr. Mugabe continues to control the country as a result of a “landslide majority”. It’s interesting that the same terminology is used in reference to Bibi’s recent victory over Moshe Feiglin. No wonder - with changes in polling locations, incoming reports of locations reporting MORE total votes than registered voters despite voters only being able to vote in the location of their registry, and sudden changes (by exponential differences) in vote tallies, it would even make President Mugabe proud.

How is it possible for such a thing to occur in Israel, one might ask. Didn’t I reference Israel’s “intellectual capital” earlier? Isn’t Israel known as the “high-tech” center of the world? Aren’t there world-class R&D facilities by companies like Intel sprouting up all over Israel? Wasn’t Israel just given the distinction of being one of the three most cyber secure countries on the planet by a recent Financial Times study? Ahh, but that doesn’t apply to Israel’s electoral system. That process seems to have been conveniently “forgotten” in the modernization of Israel. After all, if simply presenting your identification to a neutral third-party monitor, and scanning a ballot or entering your choices of candidates into a secure computer was all a voter needed to do, it would begin to look too much like...well...real democracy.

The problem with real democracy, though, is that it’s so...progressive. It means you actually have to give the people a real choice in their leadership. But everyone knows that the people don’t really know what’s good for them. It’s the enlightened government leaders who’ve had their comfortable positions for decades that always know better than the people. If you conduct a real election with real results, then the people might actually choose a candidate THEY feel are better for the country’s future, and it just might be someone else. No, no...we can’t have that happen. So it depends on how you define “electoral system.” Bibi has chosen the system of Mr. Mugabe, who has been in power for over 30 years and whose brutal tactics have grown more and more repressive with each decade. If the Likud members don’t take matters into their own hands and reform the system, Bibi (and other politicians who skew the system in their favor) will be leading Likud for a long time to come, and if you think the shenanigans he’s using now are merely dishonest, just a wait a decade or two more.

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