LAST UPDATED: 02/09/2012 21:54
Since the establishment of the Jewish state there have been repeated attempts to change Israel’s electoral system.
Haredi man casts ballot in elections [file] Photo: Gil Cohen Magen / Reuters
Since the establishment of the Jewish state over six decades ago, there have
been repeated attempts to change Israel’s electoral system.
Born in a
moment of severe crisis with the War of the Independence still raging, and left
nearly unchanged since, the system of proportional representation allocates
power among political parties according to the percentage of overall votes each
receives in a single, nationwide election.
Any party that manages to
receive at least 2 percent of the vote gains entry.
representation with a relatively low threshold percentage – only the Netherlands
has a lower threshold at 0.67% – tend to encourage the creation of fringe
political parties – such as the Pensioners Party – with radical or narrow
agendas that represent only a fraction of the population or with fleeting
Government coalitions are created by pulling together a
patchwork of diverse factions. These governments are plagued with chronic
division and instability. In many cases, a single small party can bring down a
government, giving it inordinate leveraging power. Politicians tend to be
unknown sycophants willing to toe the party line who are unconcerned with
representing the voters since their reelection depends on internal party
politics, not personal popularity.
As early as October 1948, just months
after the creation of the state, Israel’s first prime minister, David
Ben-Gurion, sought to change the system. Ben-Gurion wanted to institute a
plurality voting system similar to the British model.
Voters would cast
ballots for candidates running in district elections. The candidate receiving
the most votes would be declared the winner. Votes cast for losing candidates
would be discarded. This system is also known as the “first past the post” or
“winner takes all” mechanism.
As noted by former executive editor of The
Jerusalem Post Amotz Asa-El, in an article titled “Israel’s electoral complex”
that appeared in Azure (Autumn, 2008), about 10 bills calling for regional
elections were presented to the Knesset between 1958 and 1988.
attempts at reform were torpedoed by small parties that were members of
consecutive government coalitions – especially religious parties – and stood to
lose the most.
Now a new attempt is being launched to bring about
Former Mossad director Meir Dagan has started a
grassroots movement called Yesh Sikui (“There is a chance”).
Ma’ariv, the initiative is backed by businessman Gad Ze’evi, former IDF chief
Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and PR guru Reuven Adler. Interdisciplinary Center president
Prof. Uriel Reichman, a longtime advocate of electoral reform, is also said to
Dagan and others are calling to institute a system in which
half of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers will be voted into office in regional
elections. The other half will continue to be elected in national elections. By
instituting regional elections, Dagan hopes to change the dynamic in which many
MKs are chosen for their subservience to a single leader or party mechanism
(Shas and Israel Beiteinu come to mind) or to a central
Instead, leaders with strong grassroots backing will be
brought into politics. These men and women will be forced to represent their
voters in the Knesset, not the party hacks. And voters will expect MKs to be
responsive to their demands, which will encourage more civic
Holding regional elections increases the chances that
lawmakers will be chosen for their unique talents, pragmatism and ability to get
Another proposal being put forward by Dagan is to raise the
election threshold from 2% to 3%, which will encourage voters to choose larger,
more mainstream parties, thus bringing more stability to government
Before these reforms can be implemented, many obstacles need
to be overcome. Arabs and haredim must be assured that their unique interests
would be protected.
Old political sensibilities, such as the belief that
political representation should be given to every minority in the nation, would
have to be reconsidered and, perhaps, discarded.
Splitting up the nation
into regions would be controversial and could open the way for
We hope Dagan will succeed in sparking a public debate
that reevaluates our political system in a critical light.
Only once the
wider public fully understands the ailments of our present political system and
considers the alternatives will there be a chance that an initiative for
electoral reform can succeed where previous attempts failed.