Pricey elections

Some of the costs are financial; others result directly from the way politics is played in Israel.

October 27, 2008 21:26
3 minute read.
Pricey elections

ballot box 88. (photo credit: )


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There's already a lot of kvetching about how much the forthcoming Knesset elections are going to cost the economy. Some of these costs are financial; others result directly from the way the political game is played in this country. Since 1992, Israel has elected a new legislature roughly every 3.4 years, and has been led by seven prime ministers. This has made it difficult to develop, much less implement, coherent economic policies. With the demise of the 17th Knesset, legislation currently in the pipeline dealing with transportation, infrastructure, tax reform, subsidies, municipalities and classroom size will be put on hold. Politically, new elections will also delay passage of the 2009 budget. This means that the next cabinet will come into office forced to operate on the basis of the budget priorities set by Ehud Olmert's government. So the next premier's first task will be the messy job of getting a budget of his or her own through the Knesset. All this will play out against the backdrop of the global economic downturn that is already having repercussions here. Financially, electing the 18th Knesset will cost taxpayers approximately NIS 2 billion. Some of it (NIS 180 million) will be spent on party campaign financing and some (NIS 250 million) on keeping everything running smoothly on election day. Elections will also be costly for the parties. Most are already deep in debt: Labor owes the most (NIS 128 million) and Kadima the least (NIS 3 million). Alone in the black (a NIS 6.6 million surplus) is the pensioners list. Raising campaign funds will be difficult and - as experience has shown - an invitation for financial hanky-panky. We've heard complaints that the country will lose a workday. But given that Israelis enjoy just one legal holiday a year - Independence Day - that is not tied to religious observances, should we begrudge ourselves a second day off in 2009, even if the tally comes to NIS 1.5 billion? There are those who insist that having elections now wastes taxpayer money. But even if they were held in 2010, as originally scheduled, they would be no less costly; and, anyway, maintaining a narrow, chronically teetering coalition is exceedingly expensive due to the need to trade patronage for votes. Thus, in the present circumstances, early elections may actually be the best way to cut our losses. FOR THOSE who think elections come too often and cost too much, there are two remedies. Long-term, Israel needs to pursue the kind of electoral reform this newspaper has consistently advocated: We need to move from our pure proportional system toward constituency representation. This would make Israeli politics less fragmented because a winner-take-all constituency system discourages single-issue parties that thrive on parochialism and abhor compromise. Short-term, the most important step voters can take to help ensure that the 18th Knesset - which we will now elect in 2009 - lives out its term is to vote strategically. In 2006, thousands of ballots were squandered on frivolous minor parties espousing narrow (often absurd or extremist) agendas. We're still shaking our heads at the thought that 185,000 Israelis (practically 6 percent of the electorate) cast ballots for the Gil Pensioners Party, handing those bickering curmudgeons seven seats. Those who cast their ballots with devil-may-care nonchalance, or as a lark, forfeit the right to complain later about what their recklessness has wrought, or how expensive it is to keep holding elections. Democracy remains a global rarity. So Israelis ought to treat the privilege of voting responsibly. SPEAKING to the Knesset yesterday, President Shimon Peres noted the gravity of the issues voters should consider as they go to the polls: our lack of social cohesion, the manifold threats to our security, the search for peace, the quest for economic prosperity and social justice, and promotion of the rule of law. We need to bolster parties that emphasize the collective good over those that promote parochialism. We need to resist the impulse to support fly-by-night parties and turn our backs on politicians who would appeal to our baser instincts. In buttressing Israel's main political camps, voters can insure a modicum of stability even before genuine electoral reform is achieved.

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