Toward a dead end

We urgently need a change in the government system, the cause of many ills in this country.

February 7, 2011 23:02
3 minute read.
Kadima MKs spray air freshener in protest

Knesset Air Freshener 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

Just two years ago, the government system was one of the main issues on the agenda during the elections for the 18th Knesset. Most of the parties, including those in the coalition, repeatedly stated the need for a change. But no serious, comprehensive proposal has yet been put forth.

Not only that, but ever since the current government was formed, the need for this change has only intensified. The passing of the biennial budget, the splitting and establishing of new governmental offices for specific political needs, the weakening of the Knesset as the legislative authority, the paralysis of the Knesset’s status as the critical authority of the government since a fourth of MKs serve in it, the reduction of the number of members on Knesset committees, the changing of the ground rules for temporary political needs – all these are just a few examples of some of the moves undertaken by the current Knesset which illustrate the pressing need for changing the problematic government system and legislating a better, more appropriate one.

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Signs of destructive influence are not only prevalent in the Knesset. Just recently, we all saw the consequences of years of neglect of the fire fighting service – neglect which manifested itself in the inability to control the Carmel fires.

The lack of governmental stability and the failure to plan long-term were some of the factors that contributed to the fact that, despite the writing on the wall, not a thing was done to rehabilitate the fire fighting service.

We needn’t be surprised. Just as no business would function properly for 20 years should its manager be replaced 20 times, the Interior Ministry was unable to solve the challenges facing the fire fighting services when 20 different ministers served at its head over the past two decades. And this is just one office out of many.

The problems did not start during the current government. The electoral system was always believed to be the main cause of the instability of different governments and their lack of freedom to operate. But so far, we have been unsuccessful in finding and promoting a better system. There was some experimentation. Twice a prime minister was elected directly, but the experiment failed and we quickly reverted back to the old system.

THOSE WHO oppose change argue that if we tried and failed, we needn’t try again. But not only do the reasons we had for seeking a change still exist, it’s now become even more urgent.

Contrary to what we hear from those who support it, the current electoral system encourages polarization and radicalization. The reality derived from the current system is one of extremism and segregation, in which only governmental instability emerges.

We are told that we need to “let all sectors have a voice,” but in practice we lead the representatives of these sectors and subsectors to resort to extremism to win the support of their electorates, because the emphasis is on highlighting the differences and not on searching for unity.

There are ways to give representation to different sectors in the framework of a system based on two or three big political parties. In the US, they find representations in the two main parties and in three parties in Britain, and it works. Major parties are a melting pot in which sector representatives may not only aspire to represent, but also to lead the country.

There are several proposals for change, from a presidential system to raising the threshold of regional elections. Either way, the worst solution would be the status quo.

Not all the ills of the country originated in the electoral system, but if we were to effect change, some of them would disappear. And we cannot afford to miss that opportunity.

A special committee with representatives from the bigger parties should be formed as soon as possible; it would formulate and submit during the next Knesset session a comprehensive proposal to change the government system.

We must understand that every method has its shortcomings, and we must search not for the best method, but the one with the least amount of disadvantages.

If we fail to do so, the current system and its ills will lead the state to a dead end.

The author is a member of Knesset and chairwoman of the Kadima faction.

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