Early elections?

Taking advantage of a fleeting moment of popularity does not justify disrupting the economy and the political system.

September 11, 2017 21:50
3 minute read.
Early elections?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens to an advisor at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem August 6, 2017.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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If it were up to him, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would call early elections to take advantage of his popularity. But because his coalition partners are adamantly opposed to the idea, Netanyahu appears to be apprehensive in moving forward with it.

This is the way a report by Channel 1 presented Netanyahu’s thinking about his current political status.

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If it is true and Netanyahu did in fact express his desire for early elections in private meetings with Likud ministers, it would mean that the prime minister is putting his own interests and the interests of his party before those of the nation. We would urge him not to do so and keep elections as scheduled in November 2019.

Clearly, what Israel needs is stability not another disruption that will have a negative impact on this government’s ability to govern.

The Likud and Netanyahu are enjoying remarkable popularity. Paradoxically, the many criminal investigations involving Netanyahu, his wife, Sara, and other figures connected to the government have actually had a positive effect on the prime minister. He and his family are seen by many Likud supporters as victims. The allegations – which Netanyahu’s defenders claim are either baseless or deal with petty matters such as food and cigars – are perceived as unfair attempts orchestrated by a slanted news media to bring down the government through undemocratic means.

At the end of August, the Geocartographia Institute published a survey that found the Likud would receive 34 Knesset seats if an election was held then, four more than at present.

But the prime minister is well aware that surveys are unreliable and public opinion changes as rapidly as the fast-paced Israeli news cycle.

The case of British Prime Minister Theresa May is instructive. When May surprised her nation by calling for early elections early this year – ostensibly to receive a mandate on Brexit – her approval ratings were high. It seemed certain her Conservative Party would manage to increase its political power and win a majority in parliament. By the time elections actually took place in June, however, her position and the position of her party actually worsened.

There is, in short, no certainty that Netanyahu would succeed in capitalizing on his present popularity, even if elections were to be moved up. So much could happen in the interim.

More importantly, early elections cut short the life of the government and prevent ministers from following through on policies. Attention pivots from the dayto- day tasks of running the nation to campaigning for votes. And this is destructive to our governance.

The situation is already bad in Israel. Too many laws passed in the Knesset, or decisions made by the cabinet, do not get implemented. In part, this is the result of short-lived governments. Democratically elected politicians are unable to cope with long-standing market failures, such as Israel’s housing shortage and related exorbitant housing prices. They are unable to follow through on much-needed reforms. The lack of preparedness for the 2010 Mount Carmel fire was, in large part, due to the fact that government decisions were not properly implemented.

The inability of governments to follow through on the policies they entered office to implement can have a pernicious impact on the democratic process. Why bother voting if the politician or party won’t be able to implement policy? Elections are also costly. Financing for political parties in the last elections cost nearly NIS 500 million; the loss of a day of work costs the economy another billion.

Besides the direct costs of holding elections, the economy suffers from a lack of direction. Passage of the budget is postponed, which leads to delays in infrastructure projects and other important national endeavors.

Taking advantage of a fleeting moment of popularity does not justify disrupting the economy and the political system, postponing the implementation of projects and generating needless expenses. There is no good reason to call early elections. Instead, Netanyahu should focus on what he was elected to do: run the nation.

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