Representation now

The idea of electing part of the Knesset by region is not new, which should be considered in its favor.

voting 88 nice (photo credit: )
voting 88 nice
(photo credit: )
Reports from blue-ribbon commissions have a way of finding themselves in trash cans. Many deserve this fate. The report of the Megidor committee on electoral reform, however, does not. On the contrary, it should become the basis of a popular movement. The Commission for the Examination of the Structure of Government, headed by Prof. Menachem Megidor, was not the average slapdash effort. Its 73 members were divided into seven subcommittees - themselves headed by experienced public figures - which worked for 15 months. Megidor presented a 46-page summary of the committee's work to President Moshe Katsav on Monday. The committee produced a number of important, if familiar proposals, such as passing the "Norwegian Law" that would force ministers to resign from the Knesset, and increasing the party electoral threshold from 2 to 2.5 percent. Such incremental steps should be seriously considered. By far the most important reform proposed by the commission, however, was to elect half the Knesset directly, by region. These 60 MKs would be elected in 17 districts, which would be represented by three to five MKs each. This idea of electing at least part of the Knesset by region is not a new one, a factor which should be considered in its favor. In fact, it is as old as the state. Soon after independence, prime minister David Ben-Gurion began pushing for regional elections to the Knesset, and continued to do so throughout his political career. He, better than anyone, knew that the current system of electing the entire Knesset by party list was an artifact of the need to hold elections quickly, during wartime. Further, that if Israel stuck with such a system it would lead to extreme political fragmentation, rather than a more stable system composed of a few large parties. Indeed, Israel is the only advanced democracy that does not elect a single legislator by region. The entire US Congress - all 100 Senators and 435 House members - are elected regionally. Moving to parliamentary, rather than presidential, systems, the "mother of all parliaments" in London is entirely elected by region. Even the British prime minister must win reelection in his or her district. In Germany and France as well, a substantial proportion of the parliaments are elected directly, by district. Electing part or all of a legislature by district has two clear benefits. First, it reduces the number of parties, because the more an electorate is divided into small, regional, pieces, the more difficult it is for small specialized parties to win majorities in each district. Consequently, the US has only two parties, and the UK has only three national parties. The second effect is that legislators suddenly have constituents - that is, people from a particular and defined region whom they must serve or risk being booted out of office, regardless of their standing in their own party. As importantly, citizens have representatives: specific legislators who have reason to listen to their grievances and be their voice within the behemoth that is national government. Israel is sorely missing this critical representative aspect of parliamentary democracy. Currently, while some MKs loosely represent certain regions or constituencies, MKs must pay more attention to their place on a party list than they do to the voters. The voters have no specific MKs who are their address and interface with their government. The standard reaction to the Megidor regional election proposal is that it is a good idea but it won't happen, because the votes aren't there. This is true for the same reason as in Ben-Gurion's day: smaller parties will oppose it, and larger parties fear alienating their potential small-party coalition partners. The only way to break through this political impasse is from the top and the bottom simultaneously: we need a prime minister to take this cause on in the national interest, and a popular movement demanding the direct representation that citizens of every other democracy enjoy. The public bitterly bemoans its lost confidence in the system and the poor quality and low level of responsiveness of its politicians. The Megidor committee has handed us an important part of the solution on a silver platter. If we, the public, fail to demand that the Knesset rise above narrow political considerations and fill a national need, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.