The People's Choice

“Substantial pieces of legislation that affect our lives receive little to no public attention, while the clowning antics of one MK make headlines.”

By
January 23, 2016 22:23
4 minute read.
KNESSET

THE KNESSET building.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

 
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Writing in Israel Hayom not long ago, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein bemoaned how a recent Israel Democracy Institute survey found, in Edelstein’s words, that “on top of the little faith Israelis place in the government and the [political] parties, the majority also feels that the human quality among MKs has decreased.”

In response to the survey, Edelstein further lamented that “substantial pieces of legislation that affect our lives receive little to no public attention, while the clowning antics of one MK make headlines.”

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Send in the clowns. As Daniel Tauber noted in his recent Jerusalem Post column responding to Edelstein, “In the last Knesset 43 MKs voted to shut down a newspaper because of its support of the prime minister, while only 23 voted against.” Tauber further described how, in disgust, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented, “This bill shames the Knesset.”

Tauber’s conclusion: “When the public has no direct choice in who represents it in the Knesset – and no ability to recall MKs whose conduct it disapproves of – it should come as no surprise to Edelstein that the public thinks little of the ‘human quality’ of the MKs and of the Knesset itself.”

It should be obvious by now that our present system of government may have been appropriate in 1948, when the state was in its infancy, but things have matured since then. Our non-representative system reflects Einstein’s famous definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Israel’s system of electoral governance is responsible for a rapid turnover of fragile coalition governments. Since 1990, an election has been called at great public expense on an average of every 2.8 years, instead of every four years as mandated by law.

In a typical coalition, the absurd situation prevails where the key portfolios of prime minister, foreign affairs, finance, justice and health are each held by members of different parties, often with conflicting agendas.

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Worse, Israel’s proportionally based electoral system has one of the lowest electoral thresholds in the world, at 3.25 percent. The average for major democracies is 4-5 percent.

This is why the government of the only democracy in the Middle East currently depends on a majority of a single vote to survive.

The only solution to this impasse is to elect Knesset members directly by their personal constituencies, not as another losing lineup picked by party hacks. A system in which MKs are directly elected makes them accountable to the public.

The only way to make this happen is for the public to act.

By happy coincidence, a bill is expected to be passed by the Knesset to allow the public to petition to introduce legislation.

A petition would need at least 50,000 signatures to be considered for a draft bill. It would then undergo the regular legislative process – consideration in the Knesset House Committee, discussions in the relevant legislative committee, and, to become law, three votes in the plenum.

There have been a number of proposals for regional or district elections of Knesset representatives, but none has ever progressed beyond the first reading. This repeated failure to introduce electoral reform led to the introduction of direct election of the prime minister – enacted in 1992 and repealed in 2001.

Various proposals for electoral reform have been made over the years: • The country is to be divided into 120 constituencies, in each of which one representative will be elected in a single round of elections. A bill including this system made it to a preliminary reading in 1980.

• The country is to be divided into several dozen constituencies, in each of which several representatives will be elected.

• A mixed system in which some representatives are elected in single-member constituencies or under a regional- proportional system, and the rest on a countrywide-proportional system.

• A bill that passed its first reading in 1988 offered two alternatives: In the first, 80 Knesset members would be elected in 20 constituencies on a regional-proportional basis, and 40 from countrywide lists presented by the parties; in the second, 60 MKs would be elected in 60 constituencies, and 60 on the basis of the existing system.

It is time for a nationwide grassroots campaign to raise public consciousness of the importance of electoral reform and to formulate and submit a petition for it, in the hope of spurring our politicians to act.

Correction:

An earlier version of this article erroneously contained several paragraphs from a column by Daniel Tauber published in
The Jerusalem Post (“To Save the Knesset’s Honor, Make it Change,” January 20, 2016) without attribution. In addition, it incorrectly attributed Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s description of the Israel Democracy Institute survey in Israel Hayom (“Fighting for the Knesset’s Honor,” December 15, 2015) directly to the Institute itself.

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