Paper slips from the 2015 election, at a voting booth in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Many immigrants from English-speaking countries grew up in countries with a strong tradition of a two-party political system. These include Democrats and Republicans in the US, Labour and Conservative in England, and the African National Congress and Democratic Alliance in South Africa, to name a few.
None of them create a perfect world, and in the case of Britain and Brexit, it can quickly descend into a dysfunctional form of government. However, voters are usually given a clear-cut choice to choose a party that will wind up being in power or leading the opposition.
A look at the latest polls leading up to Tuesday’s election shows 13 parties crossing the 3.25% electoral threshold to make it into the Knesset with the minimum four seats. The front-runners are Blue and White and Likud, both hovering around 30 seats. They are trailed by Labor with eight, seven each for Hadash-Ta’al and the New Right, six each for the Union of Right-Wing Parties, United Torah Judaism and Shas, five for Meretz ,and four each for Yisrael Beytenu, Zehut, Kulanu and the United Arab List-Balad. MK Orly Levy-Abecassis’s Gesher Party received 3% of the vote, just under the threshold.
The Knesset passed a Governance Law in 2014 that raised the threshold from an even more unworkable 2% to its current level with the hopes of streamlining the number of small parties entering the Knesset.
That coalition jumble was behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to convince small parties Jewish Home, National Union and Otzma Yehudit to merge under the URP flag to insure their crossing the threshold. Before that took place, there were rumblings that he was planning to ram through legislation to once again lower the threshold.
As it stands now, if Netanyahu is tasked by President Reuven Rivlin with forming the next government, he will likely be able to cobble together a coalition of 65-66 by joining with those just-over-the-threshhold parties like Yisrael Beytenu, Zehut and Kulanu as well as those with a little larger mandate like New Right, URP, UTJ and Shas.
Netanyahu could even have the luxury of snubbing one of the small parties and forming a narrower coalition of 61-62. The implications, like in so many previous coalitions in the country’s history, are that a small party which received some 130,000 votes (in 2015, one Knesset seat was worth 33,511 votes; the number this year will depend on how many people vote) would have an enormous amount of power. Based on their demands being met or not, they could leave the government and collapse the coalition.
Already well aware of Netanyahu’s tenuous relationships with erstwhile allies Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Liberman, and factoring in the potentially erratic consideration of Zehut’s Moshe Feiglin and the always-demanding religious parties, the scenario of such a collapse taking place is a strong possibility. Then factor in the much ballyhooed Trump peace plan which is expected to be rolled out after the elections. A narrow right-wing coalition of the kind that Netanyahu would be cornered into forming would find it difficult to impossible to embrace a plan that results in a Palestinian state, no matter how emasculated it may be. This could result in a coalition crisis before there’s even a coalition.
The only way out of the reliance on small parties to form a government is to make them obsolete. Seats in some European parliaments, for example, are only apportioned to parties surpassing a 5% election threshold. If a similar threshold were instituted in Israel, it would significantly impact the parties running for Knesset.
Yisrael Beytenu, Zehut, Kulanu and the United Arab List-Balad would all be out of the Knesset or be forced to merge with like-minded parties. This in turn would enable the party that forms the coalition to recruit stronger, more robust partners that would encourage stability.
Israel desperately needs that stability as the next government, no matter who forms it, faces challenges and obstacles that only a strong and functioning coalition will be equipped to handle.
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