Lapid: I won't join gov't without electoral reform

Yesh Atid leader gives policy speech focused on returning stability to governance, slams Shas for selling out taxpaying soldiers.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid 370 (photo credit: Efrat Sa'ar)
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid 370
(photo credit: Efrat Sa'ar)
“We won’t sit with a government that does not agree” to reform the governmental structure in ways that will stabilize governance, said Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid on Wednesday in a policy speech at the Citizens Empowerment Center of Israel in Tel Aviv.
In a speech following the US presidential vote in which President Barack Obama was reelected, Lapid praised the American system of government in which the president is elected only once every four years and cannot be blackmailed by smaller parties who threaten the premier with a vote of no confidence.
In contrast, Lapid criticized the current Israeli structure in which small parties can force early elections.
The party leader also criticized the sharp rise in the number of cabinet ministers and deputy ministers to 35, three of whom have no portfolio. He cited several examples of European countries where there are fewer than half as many cabinet ministers.
Lapid also slammed what he called the disconnect between ministers and any measure of accountability to the general public.
The party leader accused Construction and Housing Ministry Ariel Attias of “tossing the Trajtenberg Report in the garbage” in order to favor his narrow Shas voter constituency, rather than helping those who have “served as soldiers and pay their taxes.”
The current system inherently sets off “sectarian divisions” and does not make sense, said Lapid.
Besides the problem of what he called the sectarian nature of Israeli elections in preventing accountability to the public, Lapid also said that the problematically high number of ministers made it impossible for citizens to come to a single location to solve specific problems.
The party leader gave examples in which absurdly simple issues could only be solved by consulting up to seven different ministries.
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To address the various problems, Lapid proposed three main changes.
First, he said that only the head of the party with the most Knesset mandates should be able to form a government.
Although the party head would still need to negotiate somewhat with the smaller parties, he or she would be more able to stand up to blackmail and would feel less of a need to offer the smaller parties the best deal, since the party head would be assured of being prime minister in any case.
In the last election, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu became prime minister by having a larger bloc of parties supporting him, even though former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni garnered slightly more mandates.
Lapid’s second proposed change involved changing the election threshhold, i.e. the percentage of the vote needed for a party to earn a mandate in the Knesset. He advocated raising the number from two percent of the vote to 6%.
This would return Israel to a state where the largest party would have at least 40-45 seats and would find it easier to govern without “selling out” to the smaller parties.
Lastly, Lapid said that only a vote of 70 Knesset members should be able to bring on early elections. This would ensure that more governments would serve out their terms, which would allow individual ministers to accomplish more.
He said that there have been 11 education ministers in the last 20 years, preventing any real achievements in education.
Lapid did not directly answer a question asked by The Jerusalem Post on how he would ensure that these reforms would occur when polls have predicted that Yesh Atid will be at most a medium-sized party in the next Knesset.
The party leader responded by saying that the idea that the few parties like his that are trying to represent the entire nation are smaller ones is part of the problem, and that enacting the reform will empower centrist parties working toward the good of the country as a whole.
Separate from the issue of changing the structure of government, Lapid also said that the state “needs a constitution to define religionstate issues and questions of the relationship between the citizen and the state.”
“All of this is possible and simple; we’ll put this in any agreement” of any government we join, said Lapid.
Top party leaders Herzliya Mayor Yael German and former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yaakov Perry also attended the event and said that Lapid’s strong support for reform on these issues was one of the reasons they joined Yesh Atid.
Lapid also took the opportunity to criticize Netanyahu, who he said “gambled” by “taking Romney’s side” in the American elections.
He said Netanyahu and Romney have some of the same key donors and that Netanyahu must now “fix” any damage he caused in his relations with the Obama administration.
The center holding the event has published a similar plan for reforming the governmental structure, although its plan also includes a fourth point in favor of connecting the national and local election processes.
A Yesh Atid spokesperson said it was in favor of this point as well, but viewed it as a goal to pursue only after first succeeding in regards to the three more critical points of reform.