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PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu walks with his entourage in the Knesset on Wednesday night. .(Photo by: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
When bigger is better
Having a large number of parties running for the limited Knesset seats is not necessarily a sign of a healthy democracy.
There is very little consolation in having a second round of elections so close to the first, but one advantage is that it gives the politicians a chance to fix major problems from the earlier experience.

One of the most obvious problems with the election for the 21st Knesset was the number of smaller parties that ran.

The last election was characterized by several major splits ahead of the April 9 date, and the more is not necessarily the merrier, particularly in Israel’s political situation. The huge number of lists – more than 35 ran in April – does not bring about stability.

Each similar party draws away potential voters of a larger list. This means that whoever is chosen to create the new government is more reliant on smaller parties that end up with disproportionate power, enabling them to determine who will be prime minister through coalition deal-making. This opens the door to political blackmail, not democratic plurality.

It was this factor that enabled Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman to press his demands of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the attempts to form the coalition for the 21st Knesset, and what made Netanyahu respond with the unprecedented decision to disperse the Knesset rather than have the president give someone else the chance to form a government.

Another factor to keep in mind is that some smaller parties will not pass the electoral threshold. In an election in which every vote should count, large numbers of votes go to waste. For example, the votes for Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s New Right, Orly Levy-Abecassis’s Gesher and Gal Hirsch’s Magen did not benefit anyone in the April election.

Having a large number of parties running for the limited Knesset seats is not necessarily a sign of a healthy democracy. It can be a sign that too many political egos are involved. Each person wants to head a list, not content to be in a high spot in a broader party.

When former prime minister Ehud Barak, for example, announced his political comeback with his newly and hastily created Democratic Israel party, was it because he could not find a place in an existing party, or did he feel that only he could offer the solutions the country needs? Indeed, it is hard to discern what his platform is, other than that “Bibi must go.”
On the right-wing of the map, the situation is no better. The infighting within existing lists, such as Zehut and the National Union and Otzma Yehudit, is debilitating to those parties, and is one of the biggest problems preventing lists from merging.

In this light, the decision by Levy-Abecassis to run together with Labor under Amir Peretz is a welcome development. That Kulanu has already found its place within the Likud is similarly a positive move. The creation of Blue and White earlier this year is part of this trend.

Netanyahu dissolved the 20th Knesset when he reached a stage of being without a functional coalition capable of mustering a majority vote. But the need for larger blocs is not just within the coalition. An effective opposition also needs to be able to unite and provide a credible political threat in the event of a no-confidence motion.

Nonetheless, once elected, MKs need to be able to work together for the greater good, and not automatically rule out any bills emanating from the opposite side of the political map. In this way, different sectors of society can be represented within larger blocs without the need for parochial small parties. Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich, who announced her resignation last week, serves of an example of a parliamentarian who worked across the political spectrum on social issues, often finding support from ultra-Orthodox and Arab parties for legislation she proposed.

Some of the parties that did manage to put egos aside and run together last time – including the Arab parties and the parties on the far-right – have so far been unable to do the same again. Much can change in the two weeks left before the parties have to submit their final lists to the Central Elections Committee. We hope the parties – across the spectrum – use their time wisely.
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