Electoral reform: If not now, when?
In the proposed system, if a regional representative is deemed not to be doing their job, he can be voted out in the next election.
Israelis vote in Knesset election Photo: Ariel Jerzolomiski
With the demise of the ill-fated late coalition, we may have lost more than the
important goal of universal national service.
Also doomed seems to be the
other touted goal, electoral reform.
Once more a very large segment of
the population faces a government, not of the people, not even by the people and
certainly not for the people. Our feeling of frustration is even more pronounced
as we were beginning to believe that we were getting closer to at least
discussing a system of government that is not based on party hierarchy. Instead
we continue with a group of MKs more concerned with their seats and their
parties than representing a public.
We naively thought, for “one brief
moment that was Camelot,” that some of our public leaders and those who aspire
to leadership seemed to have awoken to the public demand for a truly
representative government. We know that a portion of the Knesset with special
interests will always oppose any change but we did feel that there were a number
of MKs who seemed to have risen above party politics.
We truly felt that
Netanyahu and Mofaz were strong enough to fulfill the promise of a meaningful
In 2006, CEPAC (Citizens Empowerment Public Action
Campaign) conducted an important survey by Dahaf Institute, which proved that a
significant majority of the public wanted regional representation.
all indications that number has drastically risen today.
petition campaign resulted in thousands of signatures.
We were very
positive about the campaign, which received tremendous support. However, reality
proved that no matter what was done publicly, the Knesset holds the key.
Unfortunately, the Knesset, dominated by party interests, was
It is ironic that only the Knesset itself can implement
electoral changes; many of the members have no interest in any change that may
impair their own careers and that of their parties.
CEPAC proposes that
the country be divided into 60 electoral districts (1/2 of the Knesset) each
with an equal number of eligible voters and that one representative be elected
in each district by a simple majority. Based on Israel’s current population, 60
electoral districts would comprise around 115,000 citizens and 80,000 eligible
voters per district. This number is feasible.
By way of comparison, in
England, there are about 91,000 per district; in France about
Concurrently, with a second ballot, 60 additional Knesset
members will be elected at large as they are today, proportionally by a national
list party list. A special commission will delineate district boundaries
Admittedly, a district could include populations with
varying identities, but an elected representative will need to represent all
interests. Certainly, these interests would be better and more equitably
represented than at present. A candidate or a representative who wishes to be
elected or reelected can very well learn and represent the interests of a group,
even if he is not a member of that group.
It should be noted that Israel
is only one of two democratic countries in the world that is not divided into
electoral districts (Holland is the other).
The great democracies of
Great Britain, France, Germany and the United States have single member
Our proposal lends itself to modification, but the point is
that the public wants to and should experience more involvement with the
Today there is too much acceptance of the mediocre in
government with the frustration that there isn’t much an individual can do to
improve the situation. Worse than that, the public has no government address to
which it can direct its particular concerns, resulting in further
MKs must be accountable to the public. Today MKs are
accountable only to their party.
In the proposed system, if a regional
representative is deemed not to be doing his/her job, he can be voted out in the
next election. Fifty percent of the MKs voted in by a constituency will have a
direct obligation to their voters. This should impose accountability.
will also likely raise the level of the 50% party candidates, as there will be
competition among the parties to submit the best and most electable
New leadership will be encouraged to participate from outside
of political circles. Well-qualified, successful individuals today from all
fields, including business and academia, avoid government like the
We have brilliant persons in all fields who may be encouraged to
work in government, and contribute to the country, even for a limited period.
They could then return to their chosen fields. It is not a given that government
needs to be a career.
The closest we, as a nation, come to encouraging
new leadership is in local councils, where mayors are elected by their
constituency, who will vote them out if they do not perform well.
who are even mentioning electoral reform seem to be united in raising the
threshold on party participation, and certainly this is an important factor.
However, while this can strengthen parties, where is the individual not
connected to parties in this equation? A more organized method of government
could result in changing today’s practice of handing out ministries as
entitlement prizes. Perhaps with a system which depends on public support and
not only on the good will of the parties, we can reduce and adjust the number of
ministries in accord with actual public need.
This would be in place of
sustaining and creating ministries to satisfy coalition partners.
we would even be able to involve qualified professionals in ministry positions,
rather than those who know how to work the party apparatus.
movements for social change are to be commended, but their efforts should go
toward securing a more permanent change where the voice of the people will be
heard, not only through demonstrations, but also through good
Without a permanent change to our basic government
infrastructure, any public effort is destined to go by the wayside.
citizens of Israel deserve and are capable of achieving a better government,
serving native-born and immigrant, Jew and non-Jew, secular and religious. In
these crucial times, it is obvious that our system of government no longer works
as we see failure and under-performance in one area after another.
faces life-changing challenges in all areas of common concern; economic, social
and security. Dealing with these demands leadership backed by the will of the
We can no longer afford government “business as usual” dictated
by a political establishment not responsive to the public.
electoral system is more urgent now than ever... reflected by a public
increasingly alienated from government.
May the voice of the people
finally be heard.
The author is the co-chairman of CEPAC, the Citizens
Empowerment Public Action Campaign.