The big bang

Sharon is shaking the Knesset in a way that will affect the political scene long after he's gone.

sharon at un 298.88 (photo credit: )
sharon at un 298.88
(photo credit: )
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is clearly a full-service provider. Disengagement realigned the political spectrum on the policy level; now, by forming a new party, he is realigning the political map along the lines he has already incised in the ground. The results of any "big bang" are by definition uncertain. Sharon is not just risking his own political future, but that of the entire political system, in a way that could reverberate long after he is no longer on the scene. But certain things have actually become clearer. We will now have three major parties, each of which is better defined ideologically than either Labor or Likud were just a few weeks ago. Thanks to the election of Amir Peretz, and despite his recent tacking to the center on diplomatic issues, Labor will be clearly identified on the Left, primarily on the economy, but also on foreign policy. On the other side, rump Likud will clearly stand on the Right, with its primary job being, in its own eyes, to block future unilateral withdrawals. Finally, Sharon will run in the center, pledging his commitment to the road map but with a record of unilateralism that is in contrast to the unconditional negotiations approach of the Left and the not-one-inch approach of the Right. Clear choices like this are democracy's friend. The prospect of a ruling party that would continue to be in constant struggle with its own prime minister was not just unpleasant for Sharon, it was also debilitating for our democracy. We did not get a chance, as an electorate, to vote on disengagement before the fact; now it is to be hoped, we will have a better sense of what we are voting for. We will also, for the first time in memory, have an election in which a major party runs primarily on an economic platform. This is, in principle, a positive development, since this country has been lacking a well-defined economic spectrum within its political landscape since its founding. What is unfortunate is that, while the populist, big-government side of the debate will be enthusiastically represented by Amir Peretz, it is unclear that the free market, pro-growth point of view will have an unabashed champion. Even if Binyamin Netanyahu takes the helm of the Likud, the local Likud machines will likely beg him to downplay his economic platform, for fear of losing votes to Peretz. Nor can Sharon and Ehud Olmert be expected to become advocates of lowering taxes and accelerating reform when these steps, to our dismay, are automatically perceived as increasing poverty and inequality. Regardless of the outcome of the economic debate, it is unhealthy that this debate is so poorly developed and that the basic opposing positions on how to increase prosperity and reduce poverty are not fully represented. Another critical issue that should not, but is likely to, receive short shrift in the upcoming balloting is electoral reform. The moment at which our political parties are being thrown into the air like a deck of cards could not be more opportune for addressing the unstable and unsatisfactory structure of our political system. Israel is the only modern democracy that we know of that elects every parliamentarian on a national ticket. The parliaments of most countries have some - or all, in the US and British cases - of their members elected regionally, by district. It is high time that Israel institute a new system whereby at least a portion of the Knesset is elected by region. We hope that electoral reform becomes an issue in this election, and that all of the major parties take a position on it. Unlike in other countries where the electoral system is established and uncontroversial, few Israelis believe that our system has reached its final, stable and satisfying form. Sharon's new political party in particular - born of the current system's instability - should be championing a reform that includes at least some elections by districts.