Fix the system

The public is acutely aware that our current electoral method is unstable and broken.

By
February 20, 2007 20:10
3 minute read.
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This week, the Israel Democracy Institute held a conference to discuss electoral reform. After the meeting, Knesset Law Committee Chairman Menahem Ben-Sasson told the Post's Gil Hoffman that "there is no majority for a regional element" among possible electoral reforms. By "regional element," Ben-Sasson meant electing some of the Knesset by region, instead of completely by party list as in the current system. By "no majority," he was referring to the Knesset, not to the people they are supposed to represent. According to a poll commissioned earlier this month by the Citizens Empowerment Center in Israel (www.ceci.org.il), 61 percent of Israelis do support some form of district elections. This is a remarkable figure. As Binyamin Netanyahu noted in response, "The fact that without knowing the details of the constituency system so many people would support, it shows the demand from the public." Indeed, the same poll found that 78% of the public is "dissatisfied" with the current political leadership, 23 percentage points more than a year ago. The scandals, allegations and investigations, which have so far touched the president, prime minister, justice minister, IDF chief of General Staff, chief of police and the Tax Authority, certainly feed the public's already existing sense that there is something wrong with our political system. The Magidor Commission, which exhaustively studied our electoral system, recommended that half the Knesset - 60 MKs - be elected directly in 17 districts. Each district would be represented by 2 to 5 MKs, while the other half of the Knesset would be elected as in the current proportional system, according to party lists. Menachem Magidor told the Post this week, "I didn't expect that it would be easy to pass this reform. We recommended what is right, even though most of the Knesset would not like it. Such a substantial reform would bring about a shift of power and a real change, and that's why the opposition is so great. But I still hope that enough public pressure would bring about this change." Magidor is right on all counts. Electing part of the Knesset regionally would improve the system. The public is acutely aware that our current system is unstable and broken. In our 59-year history, we have had 32 governments. Almost none has lasted a full four-year term, most have fallen in about half that time. Ministers change as if going through a revolving door. Our current Knesset includes 12 parties, and this is after the electoral threshold was raised slightly to reduce the number of parties. The largest party, Kadima, did not exist before the last election, and represents less than a quarter of the Knesset. But this litany just begins to describe what is wrong with the system. Many Israelis are unaware how unusual our system is among democracies. We are the only established democracy in which not a single legislator is elected directly, by a regional constituency. Two systems, the US and the UK, go to the opposite extreme, electing their entire legislature by district. Most European nations are somewhere in the middle, combining both the direct and proportional election systems. In this context, it would be understandable if there were Knesset opposition to moving all the way over to the American or British system. What is not plausible or acceptable is the claim that it is politically impossible to introduce any element of regional elections into our system. Those who oppose regional elections generally do so for the same reason a majority of the public is inclined to support them: the more MKs are elected regionally, the fewer parties will be represented in the Knesset. No less important, however, regionally elected MKs would mean that, for the first time, all Israelis would have particular representatives who are, at least in theory, directly accountable to them and not just to their own party apparatus. The public, therefore, must not take, "There is no Knesset support," for an answer. It is no surprise that MKs chosen by the current system would not be interested in changing it. If the public wants a better system, it has to demand it, thereby creating Knesset support for a change to a more stable, accountable and representative system.

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