King Bibi's Tarnished Crown
1 | ISRAEL
The campaign season for Israel's national elections was a sleepy affair, devoid of a galvanizing central issue and enlivened only by the determination with which right-wing activists controlled the debate. Ardent supporters of West Bank settlements essentially took over the Likud party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while another pro-settler party surged in polls behind charismatic former commando Naftali Bennett. Netanyahu responded by moving further to the right, announcing plans for thousands more Jewish homes to be built on land that stalled peace plans say should be part of a Palestinian state.
The voting, however, was done by the 95% of Israelis who live within the country's pre-1967 borders. Israel's silent center turned out in large numbers on Jan. 22, and by day's end Netanyahu was scrambling to keep his job. Unofficial returns showed the 120-seat Knesset split exactly in half between right-wing and religious parties and those considered center and left. Netanyahu's Likud came out as the largest bloc and should be able to gather a governing coalition. But the results were mixed at best: bibi plummets to victory ran the headline in Haaretz.
One factor in Netanyahu's favor is the rookie status of the election's real winner, Yair Lapid. The 49-year-old is well known to Israelis as an anchorman, columnist and son of a beloved former journalist who also went into politics. Lapid's Yesh Atid (There Is a Future) party aimed for the dead center of the Israeli electorate and succeeded beyond all expectations. Its 19 seats were almost twice what polls projected and represent nearly as many as Netanyahu will personally control. Lapid campaigned mainly on reducing public support for ultra-Orthodox Jews to ease the burden on Israel's middle class, but he also called it "irresponsible" to avoid peace talks with the Palestinians.
But with little political or military experience, Lapid is seen as unlikely to push for the Prime Minister's office, at least not yet. His résumé would benefit from a top job like Foreign Minister--conveniently left vacant by Netanyahu's running mate, Avigdor Lieberman, who was indicted for fraud. Lapid's presence in the government would allow Netanyahu to tack toward the middle. But much depends on which other parties join a coalition that analysts warn will be wobbly and short-lived, just six months after Netanyahu's seemingly unassailable power earned him the sobriquet--from time, among others--of King Bibi.
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2 | BULGARIA
A video of a botched assassination attempt on Ahmed Dogan, leader of Bulgaria's ethnic-Turkish political party, went viral. In it, an assailant approaches Dogan at a speech and aims a gun at the politico's head. It misfires, and the attacker is then cornered and beaten by people at the event. Speculation swirled that the attack was a hoax, since the weapon used was a nonlethal gas pistol. Dogan, though, is hardly the first politician to survive an amateurish attempt on his life:
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT