The Knesset plenum .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Israel Democracy Institute on Wednesday criticized a measure that would allow ordinary citizens to bypass lawmakers to propose their own legislation as liable to enhance the influence of the privileged, clog up the legislative process and “turn the parliament into a circus” rather than buffet the nation’s democracy.
In a statement the think tank in effect rejected a proposal submitted by MKs Yoav Kisch (Likud) and Hilik Bar (Zionist Union) earlier this week to allow the public to directly submit bills if they are backed by at least 50,000 signatures. The proposal excludes categories such as Basic Laws, foreign relations, security, taxation, budget allotments beyond NIS 5 million or pardoning criminals.
Only MKs would be eligible to vote for such bills proposed by the public, the measure also says.
The IDI thought though that the bill contradicts reforms needed to improve the Knesset and could wind up undermining public trust in the institution, rather than enhancing it.
“The bill goes against welcome reforms to lessen the amount of bills proposed and increase the power of Knesset members to monitor the government through Knesset committees,” the IDI statement reads.
In the current Knesset, it said, already very few of some 2,500 private member bills proposed in the current Knesset have made it through the legislative process.
Prof. Gidi Rahat, a Senior Fellow at IDI, said that “the MKs’ choice to include [the public] through the tools of direct democracy does not suit the representative, parliamentary democracy we have in Israel.
Rahat said that while the bill has safeguards against extreme or unreasonable proposals it gives an advantage to people who have the money and organizational resources to gather signatures, and therefore are already more likely to have connections in the Knesset.
The proposal therefore risks giving the privileged yet another edge over the ordinary citizen, Rahat indicated.
The professor said that in countries that permit its citizens to directly propose bills or referendums, people with greater means and power tend to use it as a tool to increase their power.
“It’s clear that this system’s disadvantages outweigh its advantages,” Rahat said.
The IDI said that further that legislating is a profession that requires preparation and research.
“It is fair to assume that most citizens do not have the professional ability and economic training to legislate,” it said.
Rahat suggested that a better way to improve the Knesset-public relationship would be for MKs to answer more public petitions, to give the public greater access to MKs and ministers, and show greater transparency.