'The real problem with reform'

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
March 5, 2009 10:30
2 minute read.

 
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Professor Menahem Ben-Sasson's colleague at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, political science professor Dr. Peter Medding, is more cynical as to whether electoral reform could ever pass through the Knesset. "Simply [put], those who have to vote to change the system are those who are going to lose if they change the system. The smaller parties would be wiped out," he explained. The only time the Knesset ever found a majority in favor of reform, he said, was when Binyamin Netanyahu bolted from his party to vote in favor of the direct election of prime ministers - a decision that might have been influenced by personal considerations. "I think the reform bill is going to get buried because of the hurdle it must cross - finding a solution that will satisfy enough parties to get it through the Knesset - is insurmountable," said Medding. "Not everyone who swears that they want reform will promote it, and not everyone who promotes it will be able to further it in the Knesset." Even should a proposal advance, Medding was far from certain it would constitute a real solution to Israel's political woes. "There has never been a serious proposal for reform; [one] that takes into account the real problems facing such a reform," he added. "In very simple terms, two- or three-party systems exist when countries are divided on one major issue - the socioeconomic one, usually. Multi-party systems exist where the country is deeply divided on one or more of a number of other issues such as ethnicity, borders, religion, defense, urban vs rural. Israel is fundamentally divided on a number of these issues," he said. Medding warned that "it is difficult to construct a reform that caters to the interests of haredim, religious Zionists, Sephardim, Russians, Arabs and also the more heterogeneous parties that appear across lines, like Labor and Likud. How you construct a system that can melt all that down into two or even three parties is beyond the capacity of any electoral engineers, even before you get to the technical difficulty of drawing the map." "The problem you face, democratically, is that you have four or five groups with very clear interests and they don't want to be wiped out. If you make a system in which you wipe out the Arabs, the haredim and the national religious and take away their representation, you will end up with a lot less stability, but it will be extra-parliamentary instability. But if you reshape the system to look like it does now, where they all have representation, what is the purpose?"

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