We need electoral reform now

Only a strong, stable government can stand up to the gangster-like union leaders and carry out true and lasting policy change.

March 26, 2015 19:25
Israeli elections

An Israeli flag is seen in the background as a man casts his ballot for the parliamentary election. (photo credit: REUTERS)

On March 17, the citizens of Israel went to the polls to vote for the 20th Knesset, from which the 34th government in the state’s 67 short years will be formed. In other words, an election is held around every three years and a government is formed on average every two years. Each election costs us four months of our time, billions of shekels, a great deal of hate, and increased polarization and rifts between communities.

What will we gain from last week’s election? Most likely another narrow government based on a slim majority in which the small parties will continue to squeeze the state coffers. Billions of shekels are wasted on each campaign season, which unfortunately always produce similar results: not one party with enough Knesset seats to form a strong and stable government.

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It is a shame that so much money is wasted trying to keep these coalitions together and to keep the incessant blackmail at bay.

Back in the days when David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the State of Israel, our leaders were full of courage and pumped up on Zionism. But we’ve made many mistakes since then. We’ve avoided writing a constitution; we’ve ignored the problematic issues of religion vs state; we’ve pretended that the conflict between Jewish nationalism and the Arab minorities does not exist. We’ve not faced the fact that huge gaps between the segments of our community exist.

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As a result, rifts have grown in society, factionalism has increased, the Arab sector has been neglected, and we’ve allowed for the development of state-funded independent educational systems whose curricula are not under state supervision.

The very structure of the government and electoral system leads to the constant recreation of weak governments that rely on unstable coalitions and which are rife with political blackmail. This faulty system is what makes each Knesset term so short, and as a result, no government has time to form or implement long-term strategic plans.

Under these circumstances, no prime minister can make improvements in the areas of security, economy, education and healthcare.

Funds that were earmarked for all of these sectors end up being re-channeled into superfluous elections instead.

The country ends up losing billions of shekels every time an unnecessary election takes place. Transportation infrastructure and security deterrence are neglected and organized crime rates rise since there isn’t enough money to pay policemen. There’s never enough time to pass reforms in the Knesset and so important bill are left sitting in a drawer.

Not only has the high cost of living not been reduced, it’s still rising. The protests that took place last summer and over the past few years have succeeded in raising public awareness and stimulating public discourse, but they have not brought about any concrete change.

In the diplomatic realm, the situation is no better. A few years ago, a senior Palestinian Authority official told me the following during one of our negotiation sessions: “The problem you Israelis have is that every two years you hold new elections and a new government is formed which then starts assessing the situation and finally comes up with new policies. We, on the other hand, have had the same leaders for the past 20 years. Each new Israeli leader makes the same mistakes and falls into the same traps as the previous one.”

There is a lot of truth in his words.

In other words, there is little chance that the government which will be formed over the next few weeks will have a better chance to succeed than any of the previous ones. It has no chance of effecting change, since that would be like cutting down the branch it’s sitting on. No organization in the world will change rules if doing so harms it or curbs its power and influence.

The only way there will be any change is if we revamp the entire electoral system once and for all. Only once we have a system that will encourage the formation of a strong, stable government that can remain in power for a full four-year term without being dependent on small sectoral parties and corrupt workers unions will we see any change. Only then will an Israeli prime minister have the time and power to carry out serious reform and implement long-term strategic planning.

As it stands now, even if a leader has a great vision for how to invigorate the economy and improve our society, the inherent restrictions in our system will not allow for their implementation. Only if we change the system can our leaders make long-term strategic decisions, formulate policies and implement political, social and economic change. If we want to reduce corruption, reshuffle our national priorities and overcome bureaucratic bottlenecks that prevent the country from moving forward, first we need to make some changes.

The only way we’ll be able to solve the problem of Israel’s high cost of living is by implementing tax reform, which has been delayed for years now, and by increasing regulation and supervision. Only if we deal with the root of the problem will housing prices stop rising at astronomical rates. Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund and the Israel Lands Authority need to release public land. But to get the money necessary to make all these changes and to improve the health and education systems, funding needs to be pulled from defense, and this would be an almost impossible feat.

Only a strong, stable government can stand up to the gangster-like union leaders and carry out true and lasting policy change.

Only after we effect electoral change will we be able to scale down corruption in the public sector and stop allocating enormous amounts of funding for building political coalitions. We could save up to NIS 25 billion and instead use these funds to help people in need. And maybe then we would actually be able to extend the train to Eilat and build a light-rail train in Tel Aviv.

The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).

Translated by Hannah Hochner.

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