Spent, shocked and beaten: Livni defeat leaves Kadima in freefall

Shaul Mofaz emerges after winning the Kadima primaries this week

Shaul Mofaz emerges after winning the Kadima primaries this week

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, what is it? That's right: it's a lame duck political party. It's Kadima.

This is the sorry state of Kadima now: on paper, it is the largest political party in the Knesset, but in reality has lost much of its electoral support to a resurgent Labour Party and newcomer Yair Lapid.

It is also potentially on the verge of a cataclysmic split which threatens to send the party into single digits from its current 28 Knesset mandates.

Its leader for the past three years, Tzipi Livni, lost to her perennial challenger Shaul Mofaz in Tuesday's vote.

The Israeli political system is now waiting to see what her next move will be: will she bolt the party bequeathed to her by Ehud Olmert? Will she stay in Kadima under Mofaz's leadership? Will she take a bow from an uneventful political career and take a job in the private sector? Or will she take what little support she still has and break off into a splinter party? At the time of going to press, she had not made her intentions public. In one newspaper photo on Wednesday, Livni looked spent, shocked and beaten.

Throughout her campaign, Livni's central message has been that "there is no Kadima without Livni". This was quite a megalomaniac statement, and turned out to have been a losing political strategy on her part.

Now that Livni has lost to Mofaz, her previous statements point to her not seeing Kadima as her home any more. While nothing is set in stone in Israeli politics, some pundits have posited a Livni-Lapid link-up. Lapid has all but ruled out that possibility, though, by promising that he will not staff any current members of Knesset in his new political party, such is the man's disdain for the current crop of politicos. But then again, even Lapid could bend to the laws of political gravity.

Livni's supporters have had enough of being out in the opposition benches, and most of them can be expected to grab the lifebuoy thrown out by Mofaz. H ow much this will help them stay in the Knesset after the next elections is anyone's guess, seeing as Kadima has taken a massive hit in the polls.

According to the latest polls, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud would gain 35 Knesset seats in an election, up from its current 27. This allows the PM to cherry-pick from the smaller parties across the political spectrum. Since there is virtually no difference between Mofaz and Netanyahu on any substantive issue, the latter should have no problems taking whatever is left of Kadima, with Mofaz at its helm, into his coalition, now or after the next elections.

To Kadima's left lies a resurgent Labour, with the popular Shelly Yachimovich leading a socio-economic agenda. Many of Livni's Kadima rank-and-file are expected to make their way back to Labour. Occupying the same electoral space as Kadima, Yair Lapid's growing political movement has taken the mantle of "clean politics" away from Livni, the latter being tarnished by months of reports of financial wrongdoing and alleged fraud by her party's apparatchiks.

Both Yachimovich and Lapid have capitalised on the past summer's socioeconomic protest movement, something which Livni failed to do, to her eternal shame and detriment.

The problem with Mofaz's Kadima now is that it has no focus. Lapid is targeting the middle class with his anti-Charedi, anti-corruption platform. Yachimovich is addressing the socioeconomic issue. The peace process is in formaldehyde, and Iran looms - both issues which the Likud seems to have the public's trust on. Mofaz will have to get creative to find a niche.

Either way, Kadima has ceased to be a serious alternative for government, and is no longer a centrist rallying point for the middle class.

On the other hand, a Mofaz-led Kadima could be a comfortable coalition partner for the Likud. Mofaz, himself a former chief of staff and defence minister, is a hawk on Iran, and if brought into the security cabinet, could bolster Netanyahu's position on a possible strike.

Last updated: 12:31pm, March 29 2012