Analysis: Incrementalism, not revolution

Megidor's plan to change system of government makes sense.

January 2, 2007 01:10
4 minute read.

Incrementalism, not revolution, is the keynote of the Megidor Committee proposals submitted on Monday to President Moshe Katsav. Of all the recommendations included in the report, the most far-reaching is the one calling for the election of 60 of the Knesset's 120 representatives in regional elections. This is not a new idea. In the early 1990s, when a group of MKs headed by Knesset Law Committee chairman Uriel Lynn and MK Amnon Rubinstein spearheaded the drive to institute the direct election of the prime minister, the initiators regarded the proposal as only one element in an overall reform of the political system. More important in their eyes was the introduction of regional elections in the manner now recommended by the Megidor Committee. But Lynn, Rubinstein and the others realized that they could not garner a Knesset majority for this move, whereas they could pass the Direct Election of Prime Ministers Law. Wanting to jump-start reform, they settled for what they could get. The obvious advantage of regional elections is that they will make representatives more directly accountable to their constituents and more independent of their parties. There are also potential disadvantages in the fact that the weakening of the party system could make the decision-making process more, rather than less, chaotic. However, the reason the proposal failed in the past was that it was certain to weaken the smaller parties. According to the proportional representation system, every vote cast nationwide counts. According to the regional system, the votes cast for the losing parties do not count. Aware of this problem, the Megidor Committee has proposed a mechanism that would take the "lost" votes into account when calculating each party's overall representation in parliament. Another noteworthy change proposed by Megidor is the introduction of the Norwegian system, whereby ministers would resign from the Knesset and candidates farther down the party slate would take their place. This is also not a new idea and was even partially applied in the government of Ehud Barak. Such a move would strengthen parliament by providing it with 120 active legislators instead of today's roughly 90 full-time legislators and 30 MKs serving in the government. Virtually all the other changes proposed by Megidor are small but helpful ones, such as limiting to two the number of parliamentary committees to which an MK can belong. In fact, the committee boasts that almost all its suggested reforms can be introduced without any new legislation. The beauty of the Megidor plan is in its simplicity. It is not a proposal of genius but one of common sense. It is not grandiose but builds on what there is. In a country of extremes like Israel, moderation is almost always a good thing. But beyond its report, what is the significance of the Megidor Committee? What is its status? Is there a chance its recommendations will be adopted by the Knesset? The committee was appointed by Katsav. The importance of the presidency in Israeli life is, at the best of times, in dispute. On the one hand it is a symbol of the unity of the country and its positive aspects above the fray of political strife. Theoretically, the office of the president could lend bipartisan stature to a committee appointed to deal with the highly charged issue of political reform. However, since appointing the committee, Katsav has lost all the stature the office gave him because of the sexual allegations against him. This alone could have a negative effect on the prestige of the committee. On the other hand, never before has such a large, distinguished and overwhelmingly non-political body made as serious a study of the reforms required to improve Israeli governance. Although little is known yet about the inner machinations of the committee and the way its members came to their decisions, it is safe to say that no comparable group of people in Israel has done what the Megidor Committee did. Having said that, there are already many other recommendations on the table for changes in the structure of government. The Knesset Law Committee under MK Michael Eitan devoted one day a week for four years to draft a comprehensive constitution. The current committee under Menahem Ben-Sasson is trying to do the same thing. The Israel Democracy Institute established a committee, headed by retired Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar, to prepare a constitution and harnessed many academics and public figures to discuss the various issues from time to time. It is not at all certain that the Megidor Committee report has more standing than any of these other proposals. It is not clear why Katsav appointed the committee in the first place, when so many others were already at work on the same issues. On the other hand, one of the advantages of the Megidor report is that it is far more restricted in its aims and will therefore be less controversial than the other programs. Finally, the question is what happens next. Katsav lacks the power or the moral stature to persuade the decision-makers to implement his committee's recommendations. It is unlikely that the Law Committee, under Ben-Sasson, will scrap its own efforts and adopt someone else's recommendations. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is in no way bound by Katsav's initiative. It is possible that a political party will incorporate the recommendations into its platform or that a non-profit organization like the Movement for Quality Government will try to influence public opinion to support them. Short of that, it seems likely that the Megidor Committee recommendations will end up gathering dust as have so many others.

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