Democracy? Elections? Part 3

With elections again looming, no real hope for change, and a “democracy” in which voters have no meaningful voice, we find that our current structure pits us and our parties against each other resulting in governments which are at “war” against the “opposing” citizens and parties. Let’s consider what kinds of structural changes would actually affect the relationship between us and our government.  Today, let’s focus on the Knesset, specifically on how it is elected.

Our 120-member unicameral Knesset treats the entire country as one voting district.  In this one district we have every distinction which is present in Israeli society, including the significant differences in perceptions, aspirations, and needs among variously religious and secular groups on the one hand; those with ideologies ranging from right to left; those with different political, social, educational, worldview and linguistic backgrounds which affect their perceptions of both what is good for me and what is good for all; wealthy and poor citizens; Jews, Muslims, Druze, Christians; farmers, hi-tech workers, those in the medical system, the military, industrialists, etc., etc.

In all other parliamentary systems that I’m familiar with, the electorate is divided into geographical regions, in each of which there is one winning candidate, and (usually) one or more who lose.  This gives the illusion that people all across the country are being represented, and to some degree that is true; but in reality it is just a whole lot of smaller districts, and in each one of them, the winner takes all.  In other words, up to half of the votes count for nothing.  In some multi-party systems where no one party is likely to win they use a system of voting preferences which means that the candidates announce to the voting public beforehand, whom their votes will be given to if they are not the winner.  Even so, up to half of each electorate may feel there is no one in government representing them.

So how can we change things so that Members of Knesset (MKs) represent the people who voted them into office, and not their parties and other interests which currently control them? For starters, we could consider the following measures:

  • To be eligible to run for any office (whether executive, legislative or judicial) or to be appointed to any designated high or influential position, a candidate must swear allegiance to the Jewish and democratic state of Israel and to uphold its laws. Any prior or subsequent actions which are contrary to this allegiance immediately and permanently disqualifies such a person from running for office. Yes, that means anyone who opposes the state of Israel, while they may have freedom of thought and speech, would not have the right to representation of such an anti-Israel orientation in government.
  • It’s time to finish with voting for political parties, and vote instead for an individual to represent the voter. This is not to say that a representative cannot or should not identify with any political party; it is to say that that representative is answerable directly to his/her voters, not to any party or coalition, not to any other interests—business, NGO, foreign entity, etc.  In other words, it’s time to finish with political parties and unelected interests calling the shots.  It’s time for the voters to call the shots, and do so by directly electing their preferred candidate, who will thereby be directly accountable to the voters.
  • There will be no more party thresholds. If we vote for individuals, the threshold or the number of votes required to place a representative in office is 1/120th of the total valid votes cast—no more, no less.  Every valid vote should count.  To enable this, every candidate must declare when registering to be a candidate to whom (beneficiary 1, 2 and 3) his/her surplus votes, if any, will go.  Any candidate who is unsuccessful in her/his own right in crossing the threshold, may be “helped across” by the surplus votes of another who has identified him/her as a beneficiary.  On the other hand, any candidate who is unsuccessful in crossing the threshold, even with the “help” of other candidates’ surplus votes, forfeits his/her votes to the beneficiaries s/he has declared.  In other words, the voter will know when s/he votes for Candidate X, that s/he may actually be indirectly voting for Candidate Y or Z.  Inevitably, there will be a number of candidates in the end who are unsuccessful in crossing the threshold either on their own or with “help.” In this case the candidates with fewer votes will forfeit them to those with more votes until all votes are distributed and 120 representatives are selected.
  • It’s also time to finish with electing “members” (חברי) of Knesset—elites who have “membership” in some “private club,” individuals whose loyalty is to that “club” and the perks and prizes it hands out to its own. We do not need MKs, but CRs (“Citizens’ Representatives”) who truly represent and are directly accountable to the constituency which places them in office, whether that constituency is regional, or based on religious, social, economic, or other factors.

With the focus in the Knesset shifting from parties to Citizens’ Representatives, the obvious question is: How do we select a prime minister?

  • It’s time for Israelis to directly elect their prime ministerial team, an administrative team which works as the executive, the branch of government which puts into action the will of the people as expressed in law by the legislative branch (and where there are questions of interpretation, with the assistance of the adjudication of the judicial branch). In other words, the job of the prime ministerial team is not to pass laws and make policy, but to implement the laws which the Knesset enacts for the benefit of all citizens.  In other words, the prime minister would essentially be the chief administrator, rather than the top politician.  Such an administration should not be corrupted by the process of handing out ministries and budgets as the accepted political currency for buying a coalition.
  • Such a team should be headed by a male-female duo which is capable of looking at every issue with the combined unique strengths (and blindnesses) of male and female co-leaders.
  • The prime ministerial duo work in conjunction with their administrative team of what we currently call ministers (literally, helpers in English). They would be better referred to as Ozrim (עוזרים — Helpers) or Ovdim (עובדים — Workers) rather than Sarim (שרים — Ministers) which seems to place them on some lofty pedestal from which they think they deserve and consequently dish out to themselves benefits which no other Israelis enjoy.  That is not democracy — more like some kind of revolving oligarchy.  These Helpers must be chosen for their expertise in relation to the departments they oversee, without political strings attached — no more portfolios as political rewards.

Looking ahead, how does the balance of power play out between the executive and legislative branches?  And how does the judicial branch fit it?

About the Author
Born and raised in Buddhist Thailand as a Christian missionary kid, I was also schooled in Viet Nam, Malaysia and the US. I trained and worked as a minister and educator in the US, Philippines, Thailand and Australia, discovering at 55 that I'm Jewish. A new chapter began with the bet din, bar mitzvah training and a Jewish marriage, and then we made aliyah in 2014.
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