Electoral reform: If not now, when?

In the proposed system, if a regional representative is deemed not to be doing their job, he can be voted out in the next election.

Israelis vote  (photo credit: Ariel Jerzolomiski)
Israelis vote
(photo credit: Ariel Jerzolomiski)
With the demise of the ill-fated late coalition, we may have lost more than the important goal of universal national service.
Also doomed seems to be the other touted goal, electoral reform.
Once more a very large segment of the population faces a government, not of the people, not even by the people and certainly not for the people. Our feeling of frustration is even more pronounced as we were beginning to believe that we were getting closer to at least discussing a system of government that is not based on party hierarchy. Instead we continue with a group of MKs more concerned with their seats and their parties than representing a public.
We naively thought, for “one brief moment that was Camelot,” that some of our public leaders and those who aspire to leadership seemed to have awoken to the public demand for a truly representative government. We know that a portion of the Knesset with special interests will always oppose any change but we did feel that there were a number of MKs who seemed to have risen above party politics.
We truly felt that Netanyahu and Mofaz were strong enough to fulfill the promise of a meaningful electoral reform.
In 2006, CEPAC (Citizens Empowerment Public Action Campaign) conducted an important survey by Dahaf Institute, which proved that a significant majority of the public wanted regional representation.
From all indications that number has drastically risen today.
A follow-up petition campaign resulted in thousands of signatures.
We were very positive about the campaign, which received tremendous support. However, reality proved that no matter what was done publicly, the Knesset holds the key. Unfortunately, the Knesset, dominated by party interests, was unresponsive.
It is ironic that only the Knesset itself can implement electoral changes; many of the members have no interest in any change that may impair their own careers and that of their parties.
CEPAC proposes that the country be divided into 60 electoral districts (1/2 of the Knesset) each with an equal number of eligible voters and that one representative be elected in each district by a simple majority. Based on Israel’s current population, 60 electoral districts would comprise around 115,000 citizens and 80,000 eligible voters per district. This number is feasible.
By way of comparison, in England, there are about 91,000 per district; in France about 104,000.
Concurrently, with a second ballot, 60 additional Knesset members will be elected at large as they are today, proportionally by a national list party list. A special commission will delineate district boundaries periodically.
Admittedly, a district could include populations with varying identities, but an elected representative will need to represent all interests. Certainly, these interests would be better and more equitably represented than at present. A candidate or a representative who wishes to be elected or reelected can very well learn and represent the interests of a group, even if he is not a member of that group.
It should be noted that Israel is only one of two democratic countries in the world that is not divided into electoral districts (Holland is the other).
The great democracies of Great Britain, France, Germany and the United States have single member districts.
Our proposal lends itself to modification, but the point is that the public wants to and should experience more involvement with the government.
Today there is too much acceptance of the mediocre in government with the frustration that there isn’t much an individual can do to improve the situation. Worse than that, the public has no government address to which it can direct its particular concerns, resulting in further alienation.
MKs must be accountable to the public. Today MKs are accountable only to their party.
In the proposed system, if a regional representative is deemed not to be doing his/her job, he can be voted out in the next election. Fifty percent of the MKs voted in by a constituency will have a direct obligation to their voters. This should impose accountability.
It will also likely raise the level of the 50% party candidates, as there will be competition among the parties to submit the best and most electable candidates.
New leadership will be encouraged to participate from outside of political circles. Well-qualified, successful individuals today from all fields, including business and academia, avoid government like the plague.
We have brilliant persons in all fields who may be encouraged to work in government, and contribute to the country, even for a limited period. They could then return to their chosen fields. It is not a given that government needs to be a career.
The closest we, as a nation, come to encouraging new leadership is in local councils, where mayors are elected by their constituency, who will vote them out if they do not perform well.
Those who are even mentioning electoral reform seem to be united in raising the threshold on party participation, and certainly this is an important factor. However, while this can strengthen parties, where is the individual not connected to parties in this equation? A more organized method of government could result in changing today’s practice of handing out ministries as entitlement prizes. Perhaps with a system which depends on public support and not only on the good will of the parties, we can reduce and adjust the number of ministries in accord with actual public need.
This would be in place of sustaining and creating ministries to satisfy coalition partners.
Perhaps we would even be able to involve qualified professionals in ministry positions, rather than those who know how to work the party apparatus.
The various movements for social change are to be commended, but their efforts should go toward securing a more permanent change where the voice of the people will be heard, not only through demonstrations, but also through good government.
Without a permanent change to our basic government infrastructure, any public effort is destined to go by the wayside.
The citizens of Israel deserve and are capable of achieving a better government, serving native-born and immigrant, Jew and non-Jew, secular and religious. In these crucial times, it is obvious that our system of government no longer works as we see failure and under-performance in one area after another.
Israel faces life-changing challenges in all areas of common concern; economic, social and security. Dealing with these demands leadership backed by the will of the people.
We can no longer afford government “business as usual” dictated by a political establishment not responsive to the public.
Changing the electoral system is more urgent now than ever... reflected by a public increasingly alienated from government.
May the voice of the people finally be heard.

The author is the co-chairman of CEPAC, the Citizens Empowerment Public Action Campaign.