Check, please!

Why the newest proposed term-limit legislation will save Israeli democracy.

By TAL-OR B. COHEN
May 9, 2016 21:10
3 minute read.
Netanyahu

Netanyahu surveys the Negev from a helicopter. (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

A stall-owner from the Carmel Market told me last week, “Even the freshest fish stinks after a few days.”

“So do elected officials,” I replied. The recently formed 20th Israeli government is being led for the fourth time (third time consecutively) by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose nickname, “King Bibi” reappeared at full force during the latest elections.

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If this coalition holds, Netanyahu’s fourth term as prime minister will mean a total of 13 years in office. Just last week, Merav Michaeli of the Zionist Union proposed a piece of legislation that would limit the time any individual could serve as prime minister to two consecutive terms. Has the day come for the king to step down from his throne? The proposed term limit for the prime minister’s position is a change long overdue. Moreover, term limits have proven to be a crucial cornerstone for ensuring the success and stability of any new democracy today.

While opposition leaders were quick to voice their support for Michaeli’s proposal, surprisingly some Likud MKs, too, publicly and secretly pledged to vote in favor of the bill. Though Likud watchdogs were quick to criticize the measure as an attempt to “undemocratically” topple Netanyahu, the fact is this proposal is a significant step toward ensuring a sounder government.

Likud retorts that term limits have no place in a parliamentary system. But there is a democracy deficit within the Israeli multi-party system: it is excessively personality- based. The few parties that have primaries hold them on random dates, not in proximity to the national elections.

Therefore, party primaries are tightly controlled by the incumbents, and generally ineffective in fostering changes in leadership. To illustrate, it would be absurd to expect a new leader to be elected by the Likud when the party primaries were held less than a year after a victorious election, and also after Netanyahu had successfully formed a coalition.

To be clear – this problem is not confined to the Likud.



The deliberate abuse of democratic processes within Israeli parties is generating a leadership crisis. As a result, new centrist parties have splintered from the two major blocs, and the Israeli voting pattern has become increasingly polarized.

Globally, the issue of term limits has proven to be a crucial instrument to ensure government stability. More specifically, it helps newly formed democracies stay democratic.

In July 2015, US President Barack Obama cited disregarding term limits as one of the biggest obstacles facing the progress of democracy in the African Union.

On the nation building front, the Iraqi Parliament overturned the two-term limit in August 2014, contributing to the crisis that resulted, among other things, in the tense resignation of former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. For a time, it seemed the democratic future of Iraq hung in the balance – and quite arguably, it still does.

In Tunisia, the two-term limit has been key to sustaining the newly formed democracy since 2014. The Canadian electorate, specifically in Alberta, has raised the issue of term limits for their local representatives, despite having no such measure in the history of their parliamentary system.

Intuitively, from an economic perspective, we know that monopolies are inefficient and that competition is good. At least, these are the free-market economic principles that the Likud’s charter claims to promote.

Why then have these principles not been mirrored by the ruling party as far as promoting this bill? Supporting term limits for the prime minister, just like increasing the voter threshold, is a step in the right direction for Israeli democracy because it will promote efficient competition, healthy turnover and rejuvenation of the country’s leadership.

Israel is still a budding young democracy. It shines like a gem in the desert as the first and only democracy in the Middle East. This Wednesday evening our little country is turning 68 years old. As a Zionist, I believe the stability of our democracy is crucial to our existence as a strong, prosperous and independent country.

Passing a suitable prime ministerial term limitation would strengthen our political system and be a significant step toward anchoring our democratic legacy.

The author made aliya from the United States alone at the age of 18 in 2009. After serving in the IDF as a lone soldier, she is currently a double major in law and government at IDC Herzliya and a fellow of the Argov Fellowship Program in Leadership and Diplomacy.


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