FLAT EARTH: Vote early, vote medals

MILITARY involvement in politics is nothing unusual around the world, but most generals eschew the electoral route. Except in Israel, where the party lists for the May election are swarming with top brass.

Likud's slate is led by Yitzhak Mordechai, a reserve general and newcomer to politics, followed by Ariel Sharon, who led the counter-attack that won the Yom Kippur War. Later, as defence minister, he tried - disastrously - to repeat the same tactics in Lebanon.

Even higher up the list is Rafael Eitan, who was chief of staff at the time of the Lebanon incursion: a commission of inquiry into the Sabra and Chatila massacres in Beirut said it would have recommended his removal if he had not already been stepping down. The Labour slate is equally full of ex-generals. Four of the party's top 10 used to be in uniform, the most senior being Ehud Barak, who went from chief of staff to foreign minister.

As a nation which has essentially been at war since its foundation, it is hardly surprising that Israel is tempted to vote for military heroes. Colin Powell's poll ratings show the tendency is not unique, but his supreme talent is as a military manager a la Dwight Eisenhower, who never heard a shot fired in anger. Along with their Eisenhowers, however, Israelis have also elected two-fisted George Patton types, such as Sharon and Moshe Dayan. The results have not always been happy, which may explain why the late Yitzhak Rabin has been the only man so far to reach the top in both spheres.

Exit polls? Enter confusion

ITALY too is going to the polls, three weeks from today. Meat and drink to the television networks, you might think, with anchormen sending their Armani suits to the dry-cleaners, computers getting ready to crunch, exit pollsters dusting off their clipboards...

Well, no to the exit polls, actually. Television channels have been burned so often in the past by inaccurate data that they have decided to stick to projections based on actual results. But since the first declarations will not be made until three-quarters of an hour after polling stations close, that leaves a problem of how to fill the time.

The solution? They will broadcast polls based on the "intentions" of voters before they actually vote. Don't ask me why they should be any more inclined to tell the truth pre- rather than post-ballot.

Balkan boars bite the bullet

SERBIA is marking its return to the family of civilised nations by offering attractive package tours to foreign visitors. The country is rather short of beaches, cultural events or even picturesque cities. So what is Belgrade offering to foreign tourists seeking thrills in the Balkans? You've guessed it: hunting holidays. The Serbs are happy to supply the guns.

The human population of the former Yugoslavia may have declined somewhat in the last four years, but the numbers of wild boar have exploded. Foreigners interested in a bit of shooting can apply to the national tourist office.

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