'Too many parties' good for democracy

The politicians behind the new parties running for the next Knesset don't think there is anything wrong with the current system of government. They don't agree that many small, single-issue parties will eventually weaken Israeli democracy. Instead, they believe their decision to run for the Knesset is indicative of a desire for a change in direction that, despite everything, still exists among the public. Ten parties registered with the Central Elections Committee (CEC) on Wednesday morning for February's general election, but there are still up to 36 more parties, both old and new, expected to register, setting a record for the number of parties running for the Knesset. The parties' founders do not see a connection between the growing number of parties and the growing number of times the Knesset has been dispersed over the past decade. On the contrary, "The fact that there are a lot of new parties and old parties implies that Israelis haven't given up yet and that they still care and want to change, and they should be respected for that," said Amnon Ze'evi - one of the founders of the new party Lazuz (To Move), whose main agenda is to fight corruption. Ze'evi and his fellow party members, along with many other members of new parties, spent Tuesday night at the Knesset so they could be first in line to register with the CEC and thereby have a better pick of the remaining available ballot letters. Former Labor MK Ephraim Sneh and his new party Yisrael Hazaka (Strong Israel) believe every group of people has the democratic right to run for the Knesset and represent the issue that affects their lives the most. "Waiting in line next to us are members of a new party whose agenda is the rights of the disabled. They are entitled to fight for themselves if they feel that no one else does that," Sneh said. "We, on the other hand, are coming with a list of issues and problems we want to solve, from rising crime to security. We have a social and a political agenda, and we didn't register ourselves as a party just [now] for these elections, but shortly after I retired from the Labor Party [in May], to make a difference and change things," Sneh added. "I am not looking for a merger with any party, but to lead in the way that I believe is right," he said. However, he wasn't sure many of these small parties would survive. MK Elhanan Glazer, who left the Gil Pensioners Party and established the Haderech Hatova (The Right Way) faction, admitted that after almost three years of sitting in the Knesset, he had learned that getting into one of the bigger parties was almost impossible. "The regulations of the big parties don't allow them to reserve slots for people from other parties, and when I looked into a merger with Likud, it became clear to me that the only way to do it was by running in the primary and by closing deals, and I didn't and couldn't do it," he said. Glazer has merged his faction with what used to be the Tzomet Party, established by former IDF chief of General Staff and deputy prime minister Rafael Eitan, who died in 2004. Together with Eitan's deputy in Tzomet, Moshe Green, Glazer hopes to be in the next Knesset. "I have realized that the Gil Party hasn't done enough for the sake of the pensioners community that voted for it, and this is why I left. Now I hope to work for the pensioners from a different party," he said. Even Prof. Gideon Doron from the political science department at Tel Aviv University thinks the advent of many new parties running for Knesset is not a negative, but is simply the public's way of signaling that many issues of concern are not being dealt with by politicians. Doron, along with a group of activists, has established a party that aims to change the electoral and government systems. "We will work for regional elections," he said. "The current situation is frustrating because if I want to vote for [Kadima leader Tzipi] Livni, I will get [Kadima MK Eli] Aflalo, too, and I don't want him. And if I want to vote for [Likud MK Gideon] Sa'ar, I will get [Likud chairman] Binyamin Netanyahu, too," he said. "We also think that professional ministries such as the Finance Ministry must be manned by ministers who are professionals in the field or at least have some sort of a relation to it," Doron said. Finally, both Prof. Reuven Hazan and Dr. Gideon Rahat from the political science department at Jerusalem's Hebrew University think that having many parties in the Knesset race is not a bad thing. "The real question is how many of them will receive enough votes to pass the election threshold. If it is more than the average dozen parties, we will have to examine the repercussions," Hazan said. "The right to vote and to be elected is a basic right in democracy, and democracy was not created to ensure the government's survival - it is an independent value," Rahat added. He noted that "many countries have a similar system of many small parties that run for parliament, and that is not bad. Israel has at least two big minorities that need parties of their own, - Arabs and haredim - and we're better off having them in the Knesset than outside of it." Rahat did not agree with the claim that the system of government is unstable. "If it were unstable, [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert wouldn't have been hanging on to his position for almost three years," he said. Rahat thinks that the main way to ensure that the system works is to raise the election threshold gradually for the Knesset. "This will force small parties to join forces and to work together," he said.