Democracy and Personal Representation

Can Israel alter its political system to a more representative form of democracy?

Knesset session 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Knesset session 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It is said that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, but how democratic is the Jewish State really? We take part in elections for predetermined party lists that are compiled with no say on our part, and who we vote for is based solely on the advertised political platforms. And then what happens? A game of musical chairs ensues, like the one played by former prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, who were initially voted in on the Likud platform since evacuating Gush Katif was against the wishes of both their party and the electorate, Olmert and Sharon decided to simply abandon Likud and join the newly-formed Kadima party.
There seems to be a dearth of fundamental election laws which should be taken up by the Law Committee. 
How can it be that a vote for Party X doesn’t mean anything? For example, how could Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who was at the top of the Labor list and therefore given a seat in the last Knesset, still be allowed to retain his seat after he had resigned from his position as Labor whip to start a new party? Maintaining fairness within the electorate should have meant that the seat be replaced by the next name on Labor’s list.
Furthermore, why is there no limit to the number of ministers that can be appointed by the prime minister? Limiting the number of ministers to around 10 or 12 will also prevent the amount of ministerial portfolios given to politicians as bribes. By extension, the three senior portfolios-Defense, Foreign and Treasury-should only be allocated to those in the prime minister’s own party and not used as bait.
The prime minister should also be given the freedom to select the most suitable candidates for his cabinet, even if it means bringing in someone from outside the Knesset.
But perhaps one of the most important changes for boosting the democratic election process is to introduce Personal Representation (PR). Even though imbalances in population distribution make a PR electorate more challenging in Israel, there is still a middle road: Half the seats in the Knesset should continue to be allocated according to party lists, while the other 60 seats should be allocated by direct geographical representation – thus insuring that all major political views are represented.
PR means that votes are cast for a particular candidate, regardless of whether or not they’re backed by any particular party. The candidate who receives the largest number of votes subsequently gains a seat in the Knesset or local council as the personal representative the constituency that elected him. In this manner, the candidate is always answerable to his constituency, which has the power to replace him at the next election should he not live up to expectations.
In theory, anyone can stand as a candidate, but usually the candidates are backed by political parties who fund the advertising and lay out the required deposit (which is only refunded if the candidate garners the minimum required votes in his constituency.) A deposit of between 5,000 to 10,000 shekels will serve to discourage anyone who isn’t a serious candidate. Needless to say, the candidates themselves will have to canvass and make themselves known to their constituents in order to enter the contest for the Knesset (or council) seat.
In order to successfully make PR operational, the country would have to be zoned into 60 constituencies, each containing approximately the same number of voters. This zoning would need to be carried out by an independent committee under judicial review.  In all likelihood, it would take a very long time before the zoning is complete and no doubt that in the meantime, sitting Knesset members and party hacks who prefer the more undemocratic status quo would do their utmost to thwart the changes.
A PR system will thus require tremendous amounts of political clout to get off the ground. Therefore, my final suggestion is that a political party be set up with the sole object of changing the electoral system for both local and general elections. (It would obviously need to be a temporary party, because once the system is operational it will lose its raison d’être.)
Only then can we hope to make Israel’s electoral system a fairer, more democratic one.

The writer lives with his wife in Shadmot Mehola. A 79-year-old retired accountant, he continues his interest in local and international politics.