Lower the electoral threshold

The system is stuck. Let’s not go into an endless cycle of expensive, wearying elections, expecting better results without any potentially effective changes.

October 10, 2019 04:22
2 minute read.
Election results

Election results. (photo credit: JERUSALEM POST)

The technical guilty “party” in the past year’s government-formation stalemates may very well be the enlarged electoral threshold. This consideration immediately became apparent in April-May, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could have compiled a slim majority as in 2015, if he had the New Right’s additional MKs with whom to work. Today, it is arguably even more of a constraining concern.

The present negotiation deadlock is a clear indication that the steadily rising (1% to 1.5% in 1988, 2% in 2003, and 3.25% in 2014) electoral threshold is out of sync with the political realities on the ground. There are no longer any natural large parties. Even Likud, which won just over a quarter of the votes, has Kulanu subsumed within it. A majority of the parties that passed the present electoral threshold in the September election are what I will term “synthetic”: medium-sized and larger parties which were created (in technical blocs or otherwise) from conjoined smaller parties, each of which would possibly – in most cases likely – not have passed the threshold alone.

This unnatural conjoining ties the hands of the “synthetic-party” leaders, who are answerable not only to their own original parties/constituencies, but to each of the three or four parties/ constituencies that make up the new synthetic parties. They obtain a large enough representation to theoretically be present in a government, yet their internal agreements protecting each of the component parties’ interests don’t allow enough room for negotiation with other synthetic parties, who are themselves acting with tied hands, to actually form a government. What follows is this year’s paralysis, as the synthetic parties are too rigid as a result of having to answer to too many “bosses.”

Those of us from Anglo countries may be accustomed to two or three main political party choices, but the progressively more and more multi-sectored nature of the Israeli population and the resultant political landscape here show this state to be headed in the opposite direction. It contrast to today’s picture, it may be time for representation by numerous natural smaller parties, with more limited agendas and more flexibility. They would be more amenable to negotiation, as they would represent only their own interests/constituencies (without being tied to those of many others) – or could more easily be left out, if they are not. A related benefit, if enough small parties would form a government, is that each individual small party will, if the government has a wide-enough base, have less power to destabilize the government.

The system is stuck. Let’s not go into an endless cycle of expensive, wearying elections, expecting better results without any potentially effective changes. This simple and inexpensive step of lowering the electoral threshold could be a key to the solution of forming a stable, functioning government.

The writer lives in Jerusalem.

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