Norway? No way

The "Norwegian Law" is resurrected anew with each cycle of coalition negotiations.

April 13, 2006 21:12
3 minute read.
Norway? No way

norwegian flag 88. (photo credit: )


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As inevitable as the change of seasons, talk of enacting what is known locally as the "Norwegian Law" is resurrected anew with each cycle of coalition negotiations. This time, however, the temptation is incomparably greater than in all previous iterations of government-formation. The ongoing fragmentation of Israel's political blocs has left most parties smaller than their pre-Election Day expectations. Kadima, which had entered the campaign with prospects of winning over 40 Knesset seats, must make do with 29 and Labor with 19. As a result, many activists and hopefuls will be deprived of their anticipated political prizes. The Norwegian Law is seen as a means for dispelling the disappointment and rewarding many more frustrated politicians, thereby removing pressure from factional headliners. The bill, drafts of which already exist from previous Knesset terms, would oblige every MK appointed to a ministerial post to resign his Knesset seat. The only exceptions are the prime minister and his first deputy. Each resigning minister's parliamentary seat would be filled by the next in line on his party's list, but the minister could reclaim it should he lose his cabinet portfolio. In that case, the last MK in on a given slate would be the first out. Via this law the party chiefs could please both ministerial appointees and the additional members of their lists who would be ushered into the Knesset. This is all hawked as a progressive move to accentuate the division of powers and allow MKs to devote all their time to parliamentary duties and the ministers to theirs. Yet full division isn't a prerequisite in parliamentary (as distinct from presidential) democracies, the system to which Israel largely subscribes. Indeed we might be forgiven for wondering why Israelis feel compelled to research esoteric models from small democracies, which may function well in their circumstances but aren't particularly suited to ours. There's no need to assume that what works - with variations - in Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, Holland, Slovakia and Switzerland will necessarily work for us. We already burned our fingers with the one-vote-for-a-party and one-for-a-prime-minister double-ballot hodgepodge, which skewed our electoral system and triggered the fragmentation of large parties instead of reducing party numbers. Do we really need to encourage revolving doors in and out of the ministries? Since a minister's Knesset resignation wouldn't be altruistic or permanent, it could substantially destabilize both legislative and executive branches. But the core objection to this Scandinavian import is also the real reason it re-emerges as a hot favorite after each election. It is a version of pork-barrel politics, a means of appropriating public funds for partisan political advantage to increase the number of positions available for cronies. One of the results would be the automatic increase in the number of salaries for which taxpayers would have to foot the bill. Whereas under the current system a minister/MK receives one salary, the new system would result in a ministerial paycheck and an additional one for the MK who would take his place. In addition to the salaries there would be further outlays for staff and assorted administrative and logistic overheads. The sums are hardly paltry. If our government includes over 20 ministers, that many new MKs would be added, representing a hefty slice of our 120-member Knesset. Moreover, proponents of the Norwegian Law haven't said a word about ridding us of the surfeit of deputy ministers, a phenomenon unparalleled in most democracies. Our deputies enjoy a major portion of the ministerial perks, without contributing anything indispensable. Instead of seeking to put political benefits ahead of the public good, we'd do better to concentrate on ridding our system of what ails it - in part, too many deputy-ministers and, indeed, too many ministers. Now is the perfect opportunity to downsize. Many of our ministries are superfluous creations that no one would miss. They're sad examples of the spendthrift inventiveness to which our politicians resort at our expense. The resultant plethora of portfolios isn't mandated by objective necessity. Like them, the Norwegian Law would constitute coin with which support is purchased and ambitions rewarded. To enact it when we're told there isn't enough to go around for medications, roads, police, education or welfare would be unconscionable.

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