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In the name of glorious Italian democracy - or perhaps for other, less lofty, reasons - the Italian parliament found a place for Cicciolina. The 16th Knesset will include some Likud representatives whose candidacy is as legitimate as that of the Italian stripper. But while her political career was not much more than a fleeting curiosity, these people represent a phenomenon that stands to undermine the status of Israeli politics and public ethics.

Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, and democracy can sometimes be a Trojan horse for all kinds of vagabonds. In the name of openness and pluralism, men and women whose place is not rightly in the Knesset were included on the party's slate of candidates. The Likud list is not a colorful rainbow of all strata of society; it contains a problematic human element the likes of which has never been seen before in Israel's parliament (save, perhaps, for Shmuel Flatto-Sharon).

The Likud central committee must provide a convincing answer as to why it chose as its emissaries for national leadership a tire-repairer, a student whose family has been under intelligence surveillance by the police, a former secretary in the Prime Minister's Office, a minister's driver, a local council deal-maker who failed to pass the civil service appointment exams, and several ambitious young people whose sole public experience is having spent two years in the proximity of ministers. What makes this collection of candidates fit to deal with the intricacies of the tax laws, to supervise the country's nuclear policy or to determine the limits of individual rights?

The Likud Central Committee must also explain the contradiction between its preferences, as reflected in the slate of candidates it has produced, and the will of the party's voters as a whole. In a survey conducted by the Dialogue company and published in Ha'aretz on November 24, the respondents (all registered members of the Likud) were asked to name their three first choices for MKs (after Sharon and Netanyahu). Their preferred candidate was Shaul Mofaz. Ehud Olmert was ranked high, and Roni Milo ranked in a relatively good spot in the middle.

A survey published by the daily Ma'ariv in late October asked Likud members who, besides Sharon and Netanyahu, they considered a worthy candidate to be leader of the party. Ehud Olmert came in first place, followed by Meir Sheetrit and Shaul Mofaz. These results stand in stark contrast to Olmert's low place following the central committee vote, and to Sheetrit and Mofaz's placing out of the top spots.

Which just goes to show that the considerations that guided the 2,940 members of the Likud Central Committee in selecting the party's candidates for the Knesset are not the same as those guiding Likud voters in general. This explanation for this discrepancy lies in the rules of the game that held sway in the central committee and which determined the composition of the party slate.

The central committee members did not ask themselves which candidates would best serve the country, nor did they ask themselves the narrower, more pragmatic question of which candidates would do the best job of promoting the party's interests. The question they asked themselves was this: Which of the candidates is rewarding them personally, and in the most generous way?

The elections of January 28, 2003 should be recorded as the dawn of a new age in Israeli public life. The next Knesset will include people who bought their seats by methods familiar from the world of the Mafia. In the past, and not just in the Likud, people were elected to the Knesset thanks to promised paybacks and to previously made gifts. But there are signs that this time, some candidates bought their seats with actual cash and through extortionist means.

This week, dirty deals of the give-and-take variety were made in the Likud Central Committee in broad daylight, and thus corruption was given a sheen of legitimacy. The war against the gray corruption of the Mapai governments lasted for years in the Knesset: Several good people from various parties introduced bills and amendments that aimed to sever undesirable connections between voters and public servants. Hence, the ability of ministers to appoint board members to government companies was restricted, limits were placed on party financing and on contributions to political candidates, and state employees were forbidden from being appointed to an elective body. The 16th Knesset will include people who appear to find these modest achievements quite laughable.