Knesset Empty BW 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Since its establishment in 1991, the Israel Democracy Institute, headed by Dr.
Arik Carmon, has been pointing out the weaknesses of our democratic system and
proposing ways of improving it.
Among its many initiatives in the Knesset
were its provision of research assistants to Knesset committees before the
establishment of the Knesset Research and Information Center in 2000, and the
draft of a “constitution by agreement,” deliberated by the Knesset Constitution,
Law and Justice Committee in the 16th Knesset.
The efforts of the IDI are
admirable both because of the quality of its proposals and its persistence,
despite the odds against its success. On Monday the IDI once again presented the
Knesset with numerous proposals for strengthening democracy.
proposals were the following: One of the main complaints against the quality of
the Knesset’s work is that since there are only 120 MKs, and since our
governments are inclined to be extremely large due to coalition agreements
(today’s has more than 35 ministers and deputy ministers), there are fewer than
90 MKs actually available for Knesset work. There are several solutions to this
problem, and the IDI proposes two: to reduce the size of the government by law
and to increase the number of MKs to 180.
A third solution, not mentioned
by the IDI, is to introduce the socalled Norwegian law. In parliamentary
democracies that have such a legal provision, members of parliament who join the
government resign their parliamentary seat. If, later on, they leave the
government, they can regain their seat. If the Knesset were to adopt such a
provision there would always be 120 full-time Knesset members, irrespective of
the size of the government.
If the Knesset ever decides to do something
about this problem, it will most likely opt for the Norwegian Law, which it has
already seriously debated on several occasions since 1976. One of the reasons it
is unlikely to increase the number of MKs is the cost, both in terms of salaries
for the MKs, their assistants and additional employees, and the investment
required to adapt the Knesset building.
THE PROBLEM which none of the
proposals addresses is what the job of an MK consists of – a question that has
never seriously been discussed.
For example, if it were to be decided
that certain government business precedes private members’ business, and MKs
should devote more time to dealing with government legislation and less to
private members’ bills (95 percent of which fall by the wayside), the Knesset,
even at its current size, could become much more efficient.
electoral system is also frequently debated. The main argument against the
existing proportional representation is that it results in numerous parties
(never fewer than 10), with none ever winning an absolute majority, and the
frequently low quality of MKs, who are not directly elected. The IDI proposes a
multi-member constituency system, with at least five representatives being
directly elected in each constituency.
So far, no proposal for electoral
reform (and there have been dozens since 1950) has been approved by the Knesset,
since there is always a majority which fears the electoral consequences. The
proposal that was closest to being adopted (in the late 1980s) offered a mixed
system such as that in Germany, under which half the MKs would be elected under
the existing system and the other half in single- or multi-member
constituencies. This proposal was actively supported by Prof. Uriel Reichman
(today president of the Interdisciplinary Center). This was also the proposal
favored by the Magidor Committee, appointed by president Moshe Katsav in 2005 to
deal with reforming the governance system, and which presented its report in
Finally, the IDI is a persistent advocate of abolishing the
annual Economic Arrangements Law, which it rightly claims undermines the
foundations of democracy by bypassing the proper legislative
However, its crusade suffers from two main shortcomings: The
first is its constant denial that such laws exist in other countries, and its
avoidance of studying the measures taken by others to contend with the
phenomenon. The second is its search for an absolute solution rather than a
The only feasible solution is a package deal between the
Knesset and the government on legislation, which will include a provision to
slash the giant Arrangements Law to what is absolutely necessary in order to
implement the state budget.The writer is a former Knesset employee.