Israeli democracy and the day after elections

Can Israel switch to a two-party system, which can lessen the influence of smaller, sectorial parties?

Israel Democracy Institute President Yohanan Piesner  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israel Democracy Institute President Yohanan Piesner
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Will the next government change Israelis’ largely negative view of their politicians? 
Is it possible that the electoral outcome will lead to a more efficient, better-run government? 
Can Israel switch to a two-party system, which can lessen the influence of smaller, sectorial parties? 
These are the types of questions that the Israeli Democracy Institute, headed by former MK Yohanan Plesner, contemplates and considers. An independent, non-partisan think tank, IDI partners with government, policy and decision-makers to improve the functioning of the government and its institutions.
“I hope,” says Plesner, “whatever the outcome, that some of the fundamentals and values that bring us together regardless of political affiliation, will be preserved and not subverted.”
Can the next government strive toward good governance and increase Israelis’ trust in their political leaders? Plesner explains that it depends on both the outcome and the nature of the coalition negotiations and the emphasis that will be stressed by the different partners.
“There is one scenario where the erosion of our law enforcement and judicial institutions might unite the parties to build a coalition that agrees to limit and undermine the principle of separation of powers and concentrates an unprecedented amount of political and public power in the hands of a political majority.” Plesner cautions against this, and says that it does not reflect the will of the Israeli people.
He notes that Israeli governments are characterized by a great deal of political instability, particularly when a large number of ministers switch portfolios, and parties frequently move in and out of the government, all of which impairs the government’s ability to implement decisions. “What we hope is that a future government should adopt – and it is more likely to do so if there is a broad-based national unity government – electoral reform with a goal of stabilizing the political system, increasing governance, and weakening sectoral and fringe forces.”
Plesner suggests that if the two major political parties decide to form an alliance, either now or next year, assuming that there is a major reshuffle in the government as a result of a final decision to indict the prime minister, that electoral reform would be a natural agenda upon which both parties could agree. 
“It would be in the national interest, and it would also be in the interest of the major parties.”  The right electoral reform, says Plesner, would provide a strong incentive to vote for one of two major blocs and for the different parties to merge together into one of the two major blocs. 
“It would play a role of both stabilizing and uniting our fragmented political system,” he notes.  
Plesner says that the outgoing Knesset was characterized by a wave of legislative initiative that tried to politicize the appointment of judges, minimize the authority of the courts and undermine its independence. “I hope that in the next Knesset we will not witness a similar wave. Should such initiatives surface, I hope that there will be political actors who will play the role of protecting the court as an institution that enjoys the trust of the majority of Israelis.”
As part of its proposals to improve the stability of Israel’s governments, the Israel Democracy Institute has proposed that after a general election, the head of the largest Knesset faction become the prime minister automatically. If voters know in advance that the leader of the largest Knesset faction will become prime minister, they will be have a greater incentive to vote for larger parties and, in turn, encourage politicians to form larger alliances. 
IDI has also suggested that the new government should not require confirmation by a parliamentary vote of investiture, and that continued tenure of an incumbent government should not depend on Knesset approval of the state budget. These proposals would lessen the power of smaller parties to bring down the government. 
Ultimately, Plesner says, while some of the most important issues that have to do with erosion of state institutions will be determined by the election, other long-term challenges – such as the ability to promote structural and long-term reforms that will increase productivity, reduce unnecessary regulation and plan for the future – don’t depend on its outcome.
“These are exactly the types of issues where IDI’s experience in proposing long-term policy proposals is so vital,” Plesner says. “By working on increasing productivity and making our workforce more efficient, Israel can be ready to keep its economy strong and therefore ensure a high-level of public trust in our democratic institutions.” 
Those issues, he explains, are based on the professional conduct of state institutions with which IDI cooperates regularly as partners in planning for Israel’s long-term future.
This article was written in cooperation with the Israeli Democracy Institute.