Archive for April, 2006

How El-Al’s online check-in worked in real life

April 25th, 2006

In my previous post I mentioned trying El-Al’s new system of online check-in through the Internet before reaching the airport, the few problems they had with the procedure, and some of the expected benefits.

Now I’ve actually taken the flight, and got to experience the results in the airport. The short version is that they get lots of points on intent, but still fail miserably on execution.

The first, and most direct, benefit was supposed to be the ability to skip the regular check-in lines. Since people who went through the online procedures already made their seating/food/etc selection, they can use a quicker queue to only send the luggage. That’s the theory anyway.

The printed check-in paper had a note stating we need to go to a specific check-in desk (number 78 in this case) instead of the regular check-in desks used for the flight.

But the big electronic billboard in the airport, listing the gates for flights, included gate 78 as well. It was right up there on a listing of “All flights” together with a few more general desks. Meaning that we all went to that line, but regular passengers for regular check-in did so as well.

In my case, for a example, two people in front of me were this older woman who seemed to have lots and lots of problems, and a younger relative who seemed to have lots of issues of his own. Our line actually became the longest queue at some point, because the few people from online check-in all went there, but other people could distribute themselves based on queue length.

One woman behind me on the line even complained quite loudly that she could have saved time by not doing the online check-in. And the sad thing is that she was right.

A couple right behind me were there for regular check-in. People tried telling them that this is a line for people who only did the online check-in, but they pointed to the large electronic billboard, and said that this line is good for them as well. And the sad thing is that they were right as well.

What’s worse, at some point the woman working at that desk started to almost cry to a supervisor that she’s also taking regular people, and she can’t hold under all that pressure, and that the queue is getting too long, and they have to do something. I would have felt really sorry for her if I weren’t so busy being one of the people annoyed at having to wait so long in the queue that was supposed to be the fastest.

Eventually the came up with a temporary solution. They managed to find another clerk to open another desk, and someone arrived to tell us that all the people who did the electronic check-in should go to desk 75 now.

This was of course a temporary solution, since all the people who didn’t arrive yet would all still come to desk 78. In the future they should probably just have a different listing for it on the billboard, which they can change in real time. They can’t change printed paper, though.

Another point of confusion was that they also recently started with the idea of E-Tickets. Plane tickets that you can print from their site. Which are an entirely different thing from the boarding pass you can print during the online check-in. Except that, naturally, it doesn’t feel that different to people. There were a few who figured that since they printed their tickets online, then they did their online check-in.

We moved to desk 75, and gave our luggage to the person operating it. And they gave us a real boarding pass instead of the one printed online. They also verified with us again the seating arrangements and the other details. Which is to say, the procedure took about the same exact time as a regular check-in, since we went through the exact same procedure.

Well, not entirely. This was longer. Because of the other benefits that online check-in had, the coupons for a free coffee and a discount at one of the stores. They said that they had to give us a coupon for the coffee.

Actually, they asked each and every one of us if we printed the coupon during the check-in, and each and every passenger told them that the printed document did not include a coupon. So we were directed to desk 77 to take a coupon for the coffee.

The woman there again asked if I didn’t already had a coupon. At that point I thought maybe the reason for me was that I did it by phone, and the support tech didn’t fax it to me. And that there were other technical problems preventing it being printed for all the other passengers near me. What I didn’t know and, much worse, the El-Al people there didn’t know was that these coupons were not offered for printing at all.

I was given a coupon for a free coffee, and went on. I didn’t realize how clueless they all were, so I didn’t think to ask them for a coupon about the 25$ discount at the duty-free sports shop. I assumed that they know their procedure, that the coffee requires a coupon (since it’s hard to track) but that the discount will be given by presenting the printed boarding pass which we all still have. Since they didn’t mention it, but were sure to mention the coffee coupon, this was a reasonable assumption. Reasonable, but wrong.

But let’s stick to the coffee for now, before getting back to it. The coupon was for a free coffee at the Arcaffe stand in the duty-free area.

The duty free in the new terminal in the Ben-Gurion airport has a central area containing most of the duty-free shops, and a few concourses radiating from it into the gates. Arcaffe has a stand in the central area, so I reached there, and showed them my coupon. And the man there told me that the coupon only applies to the second stand they have on concourse D.

Not that big a problem, since it’s not a long walk (and in that particular case near the gate I’ll have to take anyway), but somewhat annoying. They’re the same network, and should be selling about the same thing, so I can’t see the sense in the separation. Plus, this was not listed on the coupon page.

Oh, and if you took a look at that map, notice that the Ben-Gurion airport site has managed to misspell Arcaffe in English. I just saw that, and I must say I’m not impressed.

Later on I went to the Arcaffe location on the D concourse, showed them the coupon, and asked what it included. I expected that, as this is a deal/coupon, it will basically be a small cup of a regular coffee, or somesuch.

So I was pleasantly surprised. The employee at the shop told me that it covered all the various kinds of coffees they have. And it covered both the smaller sizes and the larger sizes.

The cost difference to them is of course much smaller than the cost difference on the menu presented to customers, so being consumer-friendly like that is a smart move, and one that I liked. Since it’s a deal with El-Al however, I wonder based on what price are they charging El-Al. It has to be a fixed price per coupon…

So this one benefit turned rather very well. Now back to the sports store, which turned out not to be quite as simple.

I went to check the store. Now, the deal there was a 25$ discount for any purchase above 100$. Meaning that the coupon is only useful if I actually find something there that I want to buy in those amount.

The store contained sports gear (mostly clothing and such), and shoes. Actually it looked a lot more like a shoe store than a sports store.

I didn’t need any of their sport gear, but I did manage to find a very nice pair of New Balance shoes which were comfortable and looked good. And since I can actually use another pair of shoes, that was alright. They cost 109$ (Which is the same as the retail price in the US, so is cheaper than the retail price in Israel), which made them a relative bargain at 84$ after the discount.

I reached the checkout counter, told the clerk there that I did El-Al’s online check-in so deserve a discount, and showed her the printed (and faxed) boarding pass.

She asked for a coupon (You guessed that was coming by now, right?).

I told her I was not given a coupon, and was not told that there’s a coupon. I asked if the printed boarding pass isn’t enough as a proof that I did the online check-in. She called a supervisor to ask, and gave the reply that they get the money back from El-Al on the coupons, so as far as they’re concerned the coupons are like money during the purchase, and they can’t go on without it.

Very annoying, and something I did not expect. Though maybe, given the state of confusion in other aspects of this check-in experience, I should have. So I asked her to keep the shoes at the counter, and went to find someone from El-Al who could give me my coupon.

I went to the information desk, and the guy there said El-Al has a lounge (King David’s Lounge, intended for first-class and business class passengers) with El-Al’s people there which I can try and talk to. I went there, and the woman at the counter sent me one further door outside to their Passenger’s Support counter.

In I went, and was greeted by a young man working there (called Yehuda, or Yoav, or somesuch. I asked him later, but forgot to write it down, and the name got a little fuzzy in my memorry). I said that I didn’t get my coupon/voucher for the 25$ at the sports store, and he looked at me quizzically and asked what I was talking about.

Turns out that this El-Al employee, which they placed there for passenger support, was not even notified about their online check-in procedure. Not only did he not know about the coupons, he wasn’t even aware they had online check-in. At all. This is a major screw-up from El-Al’s side.

I explained to him about it, and showed him the printed boarding pass, and the page saying that doing the online check-in should entitle me to that discount. He checked for some things on his computer, apparently didn’t find anything useful, and called a supervisor.

Now, the coffee coupon was a pretty simple thing. Could have been easily reproduced by a home printer, and looked like it has been photocopied. So I expected they’ll just tell him to print a copy of the coupon at his station, and that would be it. No such luck. It requires an “original” coupon (which turned out to be of the same simple-print and photocopied quality. of course).

And they didn’t have them in any location inside the duty free. They had to send a stewardess in from outside with it. Meaning that she’ll have to go through all the security check points, and whatever else people have to do to get into the terminal. Not a quick process.

Not quick at all, actually. It took over 25 minutes. He told me it would take a while, so I went to do other things in the terminal. But his time estimates were way off, at about 10-15 minutes, so when I came back to ask what’s going on (He did take my phone number and said he’d call me, but I decided to go back and check in person) he still didn’t have anything.

Because of the long delay, and the fact that my boarding pass was closing, he went with me back to the store, and tried to ask the saleswoman at the counter if she’ll accept his personal guarantee as an El-Al employee that he’ll give her the coupon later. He showed her his ID and everything. But, as we expected, she said she couldn’t and will require an actual physical coupon.

Eventually a stewardess came rushing in. carrying a huge pile of pages with the coupons. He took one, wrote my details on it, handed the page to me, and that was that.

At that point there were a few other El-Al employees in the Passenger Support area. They asked what that was about, and he explained it to them. They too never heard that El-Al had this online check-in option.

All in all I’d say that this could be a good thing, but they really have to pay more attention to their procedure, and iron out all the kinks. The guy at the support counter was extremely nice and tried to help, but the overall experience has been extremely amateurish and disorganized…

In this series (El-Al online check-in):

  1. Offline online check-in
  2. How El-Al’s online check-in worked in real life

Offline online check-in

April 17th, 2006

I’m flying for a short business trip abroad soon. The airline, El-Al, has a new feature: allowing passengers to do some of the check-in procedure from home, through the Internet.

This has the advantage of possibly saving time if the airport is busy. And it is certainly expected to be busy now, since it’s a holiday season.

It also allows to select a meal type (if some special meal, such as vegetarian, gluten-free, etc, is required), and select the seat. Which probably isn’t that big a deal for people going through travel agent, as they can do that in advance as well. But I suppose people arranging flights by themselves, or whose travel agent is lazy, can use that.

It also has, for now, a separate station/line for luggage. So until this becomes popular, the lines may be shorter. An advantage which will quickly go away once it becomes more popular, and the lines will even out.

Though, still, some of the questions involved with the check-in will be spared, since they were already answered. This isn’t much on a personal basis, since filling it out on the web isn’t much quicker than talking to a person at the station. But it counts on a line, since you don’t also have to wait that time for all the people in front of you.

Actually, yes, the advantages are there, but aren’t that big. So for now, since it’s a relatively new service, they’re also offering some minor bonuses for people who use this service (A free cup coffee at one of the airport coffee-shops, and a 25$ discount for purchases over a 100$ in one of the duty-free shops). For them it has the advantage of reducing loads from their people at the check-in counter, so if they can save a salary it should be worth it.

I decided to take advantage, and try the new service.

The first screen asked for the last name, and the ticket number. In my case an electronic-ticket, also printed through their website. Or, more correctly, printed through their site by my company’s travel agent, and faxed to us. And yes, it’s always amusing to have a printed page containing underlined “click here” links. Somehow clicking on the paper doesn’t help.

That went well, and I reached a second screen. This one allowed changing the listed last name (Which I don’t quite get), allowed to enter a frequent-flier number for people who have them, asked for the phone number, and had a long list for meal types.

Really long list, compared to what I expected. I guess there are plenty of people with unusual requirements for their meals. Sadly enough there wasn’t an option to choose a non-kosher meal, but that’s not really a surprise given that El-Al is the official Israeli airline, and have to keep kosher. They did, however, have a few meals designated as extra-kosher and such.

And I tried to get to the next page. I was greeted with an animation letting me know that the check-in is in progress, and asking me to wait.

A message which was shortly replaced by another one, telling me that the online check-in failed, and asking me to call their office (with a phone number). The number was for support on the online check-in, so calling it an office wasn’t exactly right, but never mind.

Since I was using Firefox as a browser, and not Internet Explorer, and there are still sites designed badly enough to only work in Explorer, I decided to open explorer and try again. Same error. But the screens along the way looked better. So the site is badly designed, but at least designed to be functional. Functional at the times when it is actually working, that is, which wasn’t the case here.

I called the number. A nice girl answered and asked how she can help me.

I detailed the problem to her. She asked for the flight details, to check for the flight times. The online check-in option is only valid at a specific time range before the flight, so they probably assume most problems are the result of people trying to do it too early. Though, frankly, if the error message for that is the general error I received, instead of a specific message explaining the problem, then the site is even worse designed than I thought.

After checking a little, and seeing that everything should be in order, she said that maybe they are having some temporary problems at their end, and that I should try again a little later. I pressed her for a more exact estimate, of how later is later enough (Not wanting to try later, and talk to them again being told that I did it too soon), and she said to try in about two hours.

Two and a half hours later (spares are important) I tried again. Same thing.

I called again, and this time it took a while before the call was answered. But the one answering was the exact same girl. Which could be chance, or could be an indication that they don’t have too many people there in the online check-in support department.

She even remembered me.

After explaining to her that the problem didn’t go away, she asked for more details, and said she’ll try to do the check-in from her own station, and will see how it goes.

She reached the page with the meal types and phones, put in everything, hit the button to go to the next page, and… after a few seconds I heard her say a very surprised “Oy”, followed by a still surprised statement of “It happened to me too!”.

It made me want to say something like “Of course it did, dear. There was nothing I could have done wrong until now to ruin it. It can’t be that I just can’t enter my phone number correctly, is it?” . But she was really nice, and it wasn’t her fault, so I didn’t.

She then put me on hold, while she went to check it out. This took quite a while.

After getting back, and apologizing for the delay, she said that she managed to do it on her station. I asked what’s the trick, and she told me that they really did had a problem at their end, which they now found and fixed. She also thanked me for reporting the problem to them. This, of course, make me suspect that the system is rarely used so far, or someone else would have stumbled upon it previously. It’s not like I was doing something very unique after all.

She then verified with me the seating arrangements. Actually, she quoted a seat number and asked me if that’s alright. It was quite apparent she’s not used to doing check-in with customers. Anyone who isn’t well familiar with the layout of the plane, and I’m not, won’t know what the seat number indicate. Seats numbers on plane are, sadly, not standard. So I just asked her the relevant details, and confirmed that everything is alright.

She then finished my online check-in, from her station, printed it, and faxed me the resulting boarding pass.

In this case they didn’t really save any manpower by having me do the online check-in. More like a phone-in check-in, actually.

So now I’ll go on a flight, with a do-it-yourself ticket that was faxed to me, and a do-it-yourself boarding pass that was also faxed to me. Life’s amusing sometimes…

In this series (El-Al online check-in):

  1. Offline online check-in
  2. How El-Al’s online check-in worked in real life

Movie studios still refuse to get it

April 7th, 2006

Most of the US movie studios are claiming to be going to offer their movies for download, through a site called MovieLink

On the face of it, a good thing. Saves shipment cost and time. Allows to easily see the movies on the computer. And could be cheaper since many of the costs are cut.

Except that they managed to do it wrong on almost all fronts. If this is supposed to be their way to combat piracy, or compete with similar offers, they’re on a totally wrong track.

New films will be priced similar to DVDs—between $20 and $30—while older titles will sell for $10 to $20, the news service said.

That’s mistake number one. When someone downloads a movie they get less. They don’t get a nice box, or a nice disc that they can hold in their hands and feel. They don’t get any extras which movie DVDs almost all contain, and which are a large part of their attraction. And if they want to see it on their TV, they have to work on it, and can’t just slide the disc into a DVD players.

And when the offer is less, the price has to be less. Simple economics. You can’t charge the same for an obviously inferior product, because people won’t buy it.

And what do they do? They charge the same amount as the boxed DVD. And there’s another issue, it’s also annoying, because they have less costs. They didn’t have the expense, however small, of arranging for the box, the design, the printing, storage, and many other things involved with creating DVD boxes. Sure, on-line distribution has associated costs as well, but the marginal cost per movie is much smaller in the on-line versions.

But wait, that’s not even the biggest problem. This is:

he downloads available on Movielink will include copyright protection software that prevents them from being transferred directly to a laptop or portable device, or burned onto a disc that will play in a DVD player. Copies of the films will only play on a maximum of three different computers, which must be authorized by Movielink, the news service said.

When someone buys a DVD, they can put it in any DVD player they want, and watch it. Well, as long as the region matches (another totally annoying, pointless, and needless concept, but that’s a different rant. And something which is also quite easy to bypass). They can also watch it on any computer that has a DVD drive, something which is becoming very cheap and very common. This, however, is more limited. It cannot be used everywhere a DVD is used. It cannot be used as freely as a DVD can, even with all the limitations that DVDs carry.

So this downloaded movie gives far lower flexibility. And very likely carries an expiration date, since future computer installations may be counted as a new computer. And yet, same price as a DVD. Stupid.

Movies which “include copyright protection” also usually mean they can only be viewed with the specific program that the company provides. Compared to DVDs which can be viewed with any DVD player, and with many different media playing software on computers. Or compared to other computer movies, like the pirated ones they think this will compete against, which can be played with any media player the user wants.

So users will not be able to use whatever program they like the best, or most comfortable with. Also, as is often the case with these tie-ins, the program they’ll provide is bound to be limited, and less useful, than other available alternatives, for many users. Some people may prefer it, but all the rest will just be stuck.

An what happens in a few years? Other programs can come and go, but there will always be alternatives, and support for common video formats will always be kept. But with a format that just one program, from one company, supports, what happens if they decide to close shop? All those downloaded movies, those paid for downloaded movies, become unreadable data.

After reading that article, I still had one other question, about another issue which has a large impact on how good the new offering is. What is the quality of the movies? Is it identical to the DVDs? Superior (for new movies)? Inferior?

So I decided to go to their website, assuming that they should have the data there. Guess what? They decided to also make the website as useless as possible.

After going to the site I was redirected to a page telling me:

Thanks for your interest in Movielink, the leading movie download service. We want you to enjoy our powerful movie experience, but it is presently unavailable to users outside of the United States.

We hope you enjoy the products and services offered below.

If you are an existing customer of Movielink and believe you have reached this page in error, please access Live Chat with Customer Service under Help in your Movielink Manager.

This is the wrong thing to do on so many levels:

  1. IP Geolocating is pretty good these days, but still not perfect. They can block potential real customers, in the US, from reaching their site.
  2. This is the website, not a direct link to purchase a movie. The website (potentially) does a lot of other things. Provides information, for one. So why block it to all people from outside the US? Publicity is good publicity, even if it’s for someone who isn’t currently a customer.
  3. There can be US customers, who have accounts with them, who are travelling abroad, and want to check their account. Why prevent them? If paying customers can’t access their accounts, they will get angry. Guaranteed.
  4. What are those “products and services offered below” exactly? Nothing below right now except a trademark/copyright notice.
  5. How can you be “the leading movie downloading service” when you haven’t started working yet? Even if you are, why should I care? You just told me that you don’t want my business.
  6. If you actually realize that real customers can be caught by this thing, as you must in order to give that instructions to people who installed your program, then this same instruction is absurd. These same people won’t reach a stage where they can download the program, so they won’t have the Movielink Manager, and won’t be able to access live chat. You’re saying “If you can’t get to our program, please use our program to contact us”. That’s stupid.

Oh, yes, and the stupid page has the word “untitled” as the page title, and uses table elements for alignment… Very bad design. Actually, the other pages in the site I reached later, they are all formatted inside table elements.

Oh, well, I still wanted to know about the image quality, so off I went to run the site through a proxy, preferably one in the US…

And was then greeted with a more nicely designed page (visually nicer, but still the same horror from a technical standpoint), containing a little self-advertisement, links to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy, and nothing else useful. Why? Well, the main thing was this message:

Sorry, but in order to enjoy the Movielink service your browser scripting AND cookies must be enabled.

I don’t want to enjoy the service. I don’t want to even use the service without enjoying. I just want some information. But no, I have to enable scripting and cookies. Oh, well, if I have to, I have to. So I did. And tried again. Still no go:

Sorry, but in order to enjoy the Movielink service you must use Internet Explorer 5.0 or higher, which supports certain technologies we utilize for downloading movies. Click here to get the latest version of Internet Explorer.

We do not support Mozilla or Netscape. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

Let me give you a hint. It is totally, entirely, and completely possible to download files in Firefox. Really.

Well, I don’t want to check stupid questionable sites in IE, so instead I changed the User Agent string, in essence lying to the site and telling it that I’m using IE as my browser. The sad (or happy, depends how you look at it) fact is that about 90% of the sites which insist they require IE actually work perfectly well in Firefox. The only feature on most of them that doesn’t work is the browser version check. So it was worth trying here as well.

No go:

Sorry, but in order to enjoy the Movielink service your browser ActiveX must be enabled. Click here to learn how.

ActiveX components, for anyone who doesn’t know, are full fledged programs. This means code that can do anything it wants, that has to be allowed to run on the computer. Now, for sites you absolutely trusts, when it should do very specific things you want it to do, that may be acceptable. But for a movie studio site I know nothing about, when I don’t even want to run their service but only to see some information pages?! No friggin way, sorry. Especially not with the abysmal entertainment industry history on the field…

I did take a look at their page of recommendations on how to enable ActiveX on IE… Here’s how it starts:

1. Open Internet Explorer browser and select the “Tools” menu
2. Select “Internet Options”
3. Click on the “Security” tab
4. Move Security Level slider to “Medium”

They don’t only ask to put their own site in the trust list. Oh, no. Anyone who doesn’t know any better is instructed to lower their security settings for every site on the Internet… Horrible, terrible, pathetic, and even dangerous.

Well, back to that main page. At least they did provide minimum system requirements:

.High-speed Internet access
.Windows 2000 or XP
.Internet Explorer 5.0 or higher
.Available only in the U.S.

And no, I don’t know why they have those “.” at the beginning of each line either… What I do know is that it’s possible to watch movies on operating systems other than Windows 2000 or XP, and that it should be possible to download them with other browsers.

The last thing I did before giving up was checking those Terms of Service, to see if maybe there I’ll find some technical information about the quality of the video they provide. No such luck. But I did find other interesting things (emphasis mine):

(ii) Retained Content License. Upon payment of the License Fee, Movielink will grant you a non-exclusive, non-transferable, limited right and license under copyright to create and retain a permanent copy of the Retained Content and to view, use and privately display in your Residence or for Permitted Non-Residential Use, the Retained Content purchased by you, subject to the following rules:

(A) You may retain a permanent copy of the Retained Content on the hard drive of your personal computer (or other device specifically authorized by Movielink) to which the Retained Content is initially delivered via a connection to the Services over the Internet.

(B) You may make a single back-up copy of the Retained Content on removable media (e.g., recordable DVD) in the same format as the original downloaded file to play on (i) the single computer to which it was initially delivered and (ii) if specifically permitted at the time of purchase on the Website (on a case-by-case basis), up to two (2) additional licensed computers for your personal non-commercial use. In order to enable viewing of your Retained Content on personal computers other than the one to which it was initially delivered, you will have to obtain a new license by connecting each such computer to the Services via an Internet connection, logging in to your Account and downloading a new license. Any back-up copy of the Retained Content on a DVD will not be playable on a traditional DVD player. Movielink may determine from time-to-time in its sole discretion those devices that are compatible to receive a license to view Retained Content as indicated on the Website at the time of downloading and installing the new license. Any rights granted to you hereunder (or on the Website at the time of purchase) to make and keep any copies of Retained Content is solely an accommodation to you and shall not constitute a grant or waiver (or other limitation or implication) of any rights of the copyright owners in any audio or video content contained within any Retained Content.

So, in essence, they are not letting anyone to buy the movies. Only to license the right to see them, and store them in a limited fashion on specific location that they approve. And that’s supposed to be worth the price of a DVD one can actually buy, and own?

You may not: (i) frame or link to the Website except as expressly permitted in writing by Movielink;

(iv) copy the Content or any portion thereof, except as specifically provided for herein;

Oops. Oh, well, sue me. I want to see a judge looking at this without getting into fits of hysterical laughter. Not allowed to link to the website except as expressly permitted… Get real!

5. MINIMUM SPECIFICATIONS. The Services will operate only on those hardware and software platforms specified on the Website. It is your responsibility to ensure that you have the appropriate software, hardware and Internet connection to operate the Services. Movielink reserves the right to cease supporting any hardware or software platform at any time, with or without notice.

I think this clearly shows that I wasn’t kidding when I said one day people may upgrade their computer only to find out that they can no longer see their downloaded movies, doesn’t it? It will work only on what hardware they want, and they reserve the right to stop supporting any hardware and software whenever they want, without notice…

So we have a bad deal, under bad conditions, and with bad execution. Inspiring, isn’t it?

With this attitude, I have a feeling they’re not going to see too many paying customers from within the US as well. Of course, once that happens they won’t try to figure out what they did wrong, they’ll just go on to blame it on piracy and on how people expect to get movies completely free…

Heck, I’m perfectly willing to pay for movies, if they’re worth anything. Many people are. But that’s for usable movies, not this dreck. Make the legally purchasable movies with similar quality to the pirated stuff, and as usable, and people will pay a fair price, a price higher than zero. People are aware that there was an investment in making a movie, and that the makers need to make money. Most people do want to play it fair.

But not when it’s good pirated movies compared to crappy legal ones. That’s not a competition.


April 4th, 2006

The elections for the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) took place last week.

Basically the Knesset has 120 seats. People vote for parties, and the seats are divided according to the relative amount of votes each party received (as long as a party passed a certain minimum).

The Prime Minister is then selected by the president as the party leader with the best chance of managing to arrange a coalition of parties big enough to form a government (i.e. a majority). And the parties who enter the coalition then divide the ministers’ positions in the government between them.

Well, roughly.

The system does encourage quite a few small parties, since minor groups have a chance of entering the Knesset, and even a decent chance of entering the government. Sometimes it even gives them too much power, since if the largest party can’t get enough support to form a government, another party leader may get the chance to be PM and from the government instead. This gives the small parties quite a lot of leverage.

And can sometimes have amusing results. In this election, for example, the biggest surprise was the pensioner’s party. They did have a chance to enter the Knesset, since there are a lot of old pensioners out there who understandably think about their own needs more than about some grand political schemes. But nobody expected them to do more than barely pass, if at all. And apparently lots of people who didn’t like anyone else decided to vote for them as a default, since it appeared harmless enough. Resulting in them getting 7 seats. And almost certainly entering the government.

One running gag about it is the surprise that the people at the 6th and 7th positions didn’t have a heart attack when they heard they’re in. Obviously none of them really expected to. Another cheap shot, but amusing, about them being old was a skit about a prominent politician saying he moved to their party to the 20th position. When asked why does he like it, given that they only got 7 seats, he replied that it’s only a matter of a few months until he’s in.

Another interesting results was the Avoda party, who received 19-20 seats (they’re still finishing with the final tally, and squabbling over everything). This makes them the second largest party, after Kadima with 29-30 seats.

The feelings are that they would have gotten a lot more votes if it weren’t for their party leader, Amir Peretz, whose views, at least some of them, are not particularly popular even among the party’s loyal voters. I myself know a few die-hard Avoda voters who didn’t vote for them this year because of him. And given the difference in votes between them and Kadima, having someone else might have been enough to make them the largest party, and having the first shot at building the government.

The Likud party, which together with the Avoda has been one of the two largest parties for a long long time, has suffered a lot, dropping to 12 seats. Finger pointing of course commenced immediately, with most of the fire directed towards the party leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Partially justified, since a lot of people don’t like him personally either.

Though mostly what hurt them was Kadima, which was basically started by Ariel Sharon, the Likud party leader until not so long ago, who retired, taking a lot of the people, and the seats, with him.

Sharon also appeared prominently in Kadima’s campaign TV ads. Which is amusing given that he’s lying unconscious in a hospital, will take no active part in the party, and doesn’t have much to do with its current form except for vague statements they make about them being committed to continuing his legacy, whatever that may be.

All in all, lots of political fun. As always.

And a serious dearth of parties, and politicians, worth voting for. That’s usually the case, in that I always feel like instead of voting for the best party I have to settle on voting for the least of all evils. This year, however, deciding who is the least bad, well, wasn’t easy at all. I nearly decided to give up and skip the vote.

The problem being that, unlike few-parties methods like the American, we do have a plethora of small bizarre parties. This means that a missing vote is, relatively, a vote for the small parties. And I like most of them a lot less than my few least-bad candidates.

Oh, well. This election is over. Next one in four more years. Unless, as happened a lot lately, something will happen to force an earlier election.