2013 Election results: Importance of raising the election threshold

 By Maurice Ostroff

The total number of registered voters in Israel is 5,656,705. After over 99% of the votes had been counted it became apparent that 3,834,136 Israelis actually cast their votes equal to a 67.8% turnout. These included 40,915 spoiled or blank votes leaving a balance of 3,793,221 valid votes cast. 
In terms of our proportional representation system the 120 Knesset seats are distributed among party lists that pass a qualifying threshold that was originally 1% of the valid votes cast, then raised to 1.5% in 1992 and to 2% in 2006.
The 2% of the valid votes cast amounts to 75,864 votes in the current election and it will be seen that Kadima with its 79,513 votes barely made it.



Erecting posters for the very first Israeli elections in January 1949
Photo by Maurice Ostroff
It will be observed from the details below, that 32 parties competed and that despite the 2% threshold, we still have 12 parties in the 2013 Knesset. This large number of small parties leads to an unstable coalition as exists in the outgoing government which comprises a coalition of 8 parties. By comparison Britain, Germany, Ireland, and Austria enjoy coalition governments of just two parties while the coalitions in Norway, Japan, and Denmark comprise only three parties. The instability of our multi-party coalitions is illustrated by the fact that while the outgoing Knesset was the 18th since 1948, we have had 32 changes of government in that period.
Since the multiplicity of small parties is one of the main obstacles to building a stable coalition, it has been suggested in the past that the threshold be increased to 5% (as in Germany) which would force the smaller parties to combine if they wish to enter the Knesset, but no government has treated this important proposal seriously.
It is therefore refreshing to observe that the newcomer party, Yesh Atid (There is a future), which shows promise of becoming a major player in Israeli politics intends to propose legislation to raise the threshold to 6%.
New Zealand has a 5% threshold, but if a party wins at least one seat the threshold does not apply. It is 10% in the Turkish parliament.
Poland, where the threshold is 5% offers a possible useful example that Israel may consider adopting. Ethnic minority parties are not required to reach the threshold level to get into the parliament, so that there is always a small German minority representation in the Polish lower house (the Sejm).
When the votes are counted adjustments are made to distribute excess votes. In Israel this is done by a system called the Bader-Ofer method after MKs Yohanan Bader and Avraham Ofer who were responsible for its adoption. It is known in other countries as the Hagenbach-Bischoff (de-Hondt) method. As this procedure in effect favors those lists that receive the larger number of votesrs some of the smaller parties object to it.
The following parties passed the threshold and were allocated seats as shown.