Say no to a two-party system
Yesh Atid, a likely coalition partner, will probably reignite the debate over electoral reform following its entry into the government.
Yair Lapid makes first speech before Knesset, Feb 11 Photo: LAHAV HARKOV
Israel’s electoral system seems to be despised by almost everyone. Is it not
those small, pesky parties that create so much instability in governance? It is
analyses like this that lead many Israelis to support a two-party system, even
though the current system is by far the best choice for the Jewish
Under the status quo, party lists compete for representation in
the Knesset in a system of proportional representation. With a guarantee of
Knesset seats for parties that win more than two percent of the vote, tiny
parties are often able to squeak past the electoral threshold. This creates
difficulties for the prime minister, who is forced to create unstable coalition
governments comprised of many small parties.
To solve this problem, many
suggest Israel should adopt a two-party system.
The ways to achieve this
goal vary. Some suggest the establishment of district-based elections, others
propose a dramatic increase in the electoral threshold. These proponents suggest
that, with just one right-wing party and one left-wing party, Israel can
eradicate political gridlock.
Unfortunately, it is these people that
often neglect to appreciate the true beauty of Israel’s pluralistic system. It
is a true testament to the existence of Israeli democracy that Jews of Russian
descent, Ashkenazi haredim, Sephardi haredim, Religious Zionists, Arabs,
liberal-secularists and Muslims all have parties that represent their own
interests. In a two-party system, this diversity would disappear, posing an
enormous issue with regard to voter identification.
For instance, the
proposed right-wing party would have an unusual blend of secular nationalism,
Haredi Zionism, haredi non-Zionism and Religious Zionism.
right-wing voters, who are normally able to vote based on their specific
preferences, feel comfortable voting for a party that has no ideological
cohesiveness? Frankly, it is absurd to imagine Reuven Rivlin (Likud Beytenu) and
Eli Yishai (Shas) as members of the same party.
The same is true of the
proposed leftwing party. Is it practical to place Haneen Zoabi in the same
faction as both Yair Lapid and Shelly Yacimovich? If a system like this is
ultimately created, one should not be surprised to witness a dramatic drop in
voter turnout. Such has been the case in the United States, where many voters
stay at home due to a lack of voter identification.
conundrum forces us to answer a very significant question: How can Israel
maintain its pluralism and increase coalition stability at the same time? There
are three main changes Israel can implement that would satisfy both these
requirements. Raising the electoral threshold to 3% would be a good place to
This would not only lower the total number of parties that enter
the Knesset, but also increase the size of the parties that ultimately gain
Additionally, Israel’s Basic Laws should include a
provision allowing the leader of the largest faction to have the first chance at
forming a government following an election. This would encourage ideologically
similar parties to run on joint tickets, and encourage the electorate to vote
for larger parties.
Finally, the breakup of factions following an
election should become completely illegal.
The former two points have no
impact if factions can later subdivide into multiple mini-parties.
may consider this solution too moderate, yet those critics should take a keen
look at Israeli history before they seek to offer sweeping reform. Back in the
1990s, Israel’s electoral system was reformed so that the prime minister would
be elected directly. This reform sought to strengthen the stability of the
coalition, yet the reform led many voters to split their vote and strengthen
small parties even further.
This horrible system was later replaced with
the old system, and although stability was never achieved, Israel learned a
valuable lesson: Radical reformation can backfire.
Why does this matter
now? Yesh Atid, a likely coalition partner, will probably reignite the debate
over electoral reform following its entry into the government.
debate happens, the people of Israel need to know the true nature of all their
options so they can make a constructive decision about political
Only this will bring about the much needed change the people of
Israel deserve. To the chagrin of those that yearn to make the Knesset look more
like Congress, the establishment of a two-party system will just make the
situation a lot worse.
The writer is a student at New York University.