The Princess and the Soldier

Two years ago, shortly after Ehud Olmert formed his government, two of his key cabinet ministers each made a strategic decision about how to prepare for their future campaigns. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni decided to focus on diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinians and on shaping her image in the media.

She neglected party activity, kept her distance from the "field" - party activists and voters - and spent her time instead with the political correspondents and her Palestinian interlocutors. In any event, as foreign minister, she had no jobs to distribute.

She portrayed herself as "Ms. Clean," the antithesis of wheeler-dealer Olmert. And the public bought this image. As the anti-corruption agenda gained strength among the public, Livni's standing steadily improved.

Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz made the opposite decision: He went the party route. Mofaz made deep inroads into the party branches. With the thoroughness of a good soldier, he visited them every week. There is no key Kadima activist whom he does not know personally, no vote contractor whose house he has not visited, no mayor of a major city whom he has not embraced. The Transportation Ministry is laden with goodies and jobs to give out, and Mofaz took full advantage of this. He paved roads, fixed traffic lights, built bridges (all of which, of course, is good for the general public).

In his eyes, he is every bit as "clean" as Livni. The problem, as he sees it, is that the media is her devoted slave.

Tonight, one of the two will discover that his or her strategy paid off. According to the polls, it will be Livni. But no one in Kadima would be surprised if, early tomorrow morning, they were roused by cries of joy coming from Mofaz's headquarters.

The public has been following this process, which may produce the next prime minister, with a big yawn. The media has done its best to drum up interest in the contest, but with limited success. The public is sick of politics. Even the four candidates - Livni, Mofaz, Meir Sheetrit and Avi Dichter - are not overly excited by the proceedings.

Summing up the campaigns waged by Livni and Mofaz in recent months, one could say that Livni's was more focused, and relatively error-free. She talked a lot, but did not say a lot. Mofaz, in contrast, fired in every direction: He questioned Livni's qualifications, her abilities, her limited experience and tried to draw her into an argument, but she refused.

Mofaz took a big risk when he decided to run a negative campaign against Livni. This tactic has proved reasonably successful in general elections, when the race is between parties rather than individuals. But in a primary, a smear campaign is liable to boomerang.

Much has been written about the differences between the two candidates. She is the princess, he the simple soldier to whom nothing has come easy, who has always been underestimated and undervalued. He has a security-oriented worldview; she scorns the view that only former generals can lead the country. In real life, he comes across as warmer, nicer and more open than he does in the media, whereas she comes across as somewhat hard and chilly. He is an organization man; she relies on volunteers and broad public support. If he is elected, she is liable to leave the party. If she is elected, he will seek to be her foreign minister, despite everything he has said.

Whoever is selected today will immediately begin trying to form a new government. It will not be long before we know whether a such a government will in fact be formed, or whether early elections will be called, for February or March 2009.

If the latter, Olmert will be with us until next March, April or even May - whenever the new, post-election government is formed. That would create a complex political situation conducive to anarchy - one in which the ruling party has two heads, the prime minister and the party chair. And that is something Israel has never experienced before.