The Knesset Law Committee passed in first reading this week a bill that will raise the election threshold from 2 percent to 2.5 percent. The bill could hurt the small parties by forcing them to win more votes to gain representation in parliament in future elections.
The bill is part of a program that the Law Committee has been working on under its chairman, Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima), meant to improve the functioning of the Knesset. The idea in this case is that a plethora of small parties complicates the decision-making process because of the payback that these parties demand for their support, making it harder for the dominant coalition party to govern.
This was the second bill in the committee's program that passed its first reading. The other is the "Norwegian Law," providing for MKs who are chosen to serve in the cabinet to give up their parliamentary seat in favor of another party member so that the Knesset will be able to operate at full strength.
On Wednesday, Sasson failed to win committee approval for a third bill obliging the president of the state, after a national election, to ask the head of the faction with the largest number of MKs to try to form a government. Currently, the president may ask the leader of a faction which, after consultations, he believes has the best chance of forming a government.
"We should welcome the fact that the program for changing the system of government obtained a significant push forward," said Ben-Sasson. "The committee will work during the summer recess to continue consolidating this very important program to stabilize the system of government and strengthen democracy."
During a discussion of the bill in March, Ben-Sasson said he favored raising the election threshold to four percent, but refrained from doing so because members of the coalition would not have supported it.
Hebrew University political science professor Avraham Diskin blasted the committee for passing the bill in first reading.
"I don't understand what good it will do," he told The Jerusalem Post. "It will turn the elections into a game of chance and will not help the big parties."
Diskin pointed out that in 1992, the Right overall won more popular votes than the Left, but it was the Left, under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, that formed the government. The reason was that a number of right-wing parties came close but failed to pass the election threshold and their votes were lost.
Diskin added that when there are more small parties, the bargaining power of each is less than when there are only a few small parties with more Knesset seats each. He also referred to the parliamentary elections in Turkey, in which the governing party won far more votes than in the previous election, but has less strength in parliament. The reason is that one of the opposition parties failed to pass the 10-percent election threshold in the previous election, and therefore was not represented in parliament, whereas this time it did and will be represented.
Meanwhile, the Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens warned that Jewish MKs kept trying to raise the threshold in order to "limit the power of the Arab population in the Knesset and even cause it to disappear." Mossawa said that the bill, if passed, would "damage the principles of democracy and the right of the Arab citizen to be represented in the Knesset."