How to get off the elections merry-go-round

If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it. – Mark Twain

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Here we go again – and as the polls have it Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud will once again end the elections as the largest party in the Knesset. He is also consistently polling ahead of everyone else when it comes to the most suitable candidate to be Prime Minister.

Whereas the battlelines were clear during the previous three elections with Bibi’s attempts to reach 61 seats and the anti-Bibi alliance’s repeated attempts to remove him – the results never provided a clear victor – leading to the failed ‘unity government’ and inevitably, a fourth round of elections.

Normally, the purpose of elections is to provide citizens with a functioning government to represent their needs and interests. Round four proves that elections are not the solution and if it wasn’t obvious first, second, third and now fourth time round – I’m not sure it will ever be.

Based on current polling – we are likely even further away from a decisive result. With Gideon Saar splintering off from Likud and promising (like many politicians do) that he would rather go to the opposition than sit in a Bibi-led government, the chances of Bibi cobbling together 61 seats (with a steep price for Yamina’s cooperation) is looking less likely than ever before.

The alternative? That would involve a rag tag coalition of mismatched egos and parties from across the political divide putting aside all of their differences to allow for one of them to become Prime Minister. Those egos include Gideon Saar, Naftali Bennett, Yair Lapid, Avigdor Lieberman, Ron Huldai and more. Good luck with that.

So what’s to be done? It’s obvious that the electoral system is broken – because it simply cannot handle an endless quota of egotistical party leaders. Allow me to propose an alternative to bi-annual elections and the sheer waste of tax money that goes with it…

1. Reduce the electoral threshold

The irony here is that back in 2014 Avigdor Lieberman pushed through a law to raise the electoral threshold to 3.25%. His championing of the law was thought to be aimed at the
pro-Palestinian Arab parties with the hope they would fail to clear the threshold in subsequent elections. This backfired spectacularly as the Arab parties put aside their differences and ran on a joint ticket reaching a record high of 15 seats to become the third largest party in the Knesset.

Even worse was the sight of Naftali Bennett scraping around for 1500 votes needed for his New Right party to clear the threshold and enter the government – likely giving Bibi the coalition he needed.

The theory of raising electoral thresholds was to reduce vote wastage as it encouraged parties to band together – ensuring they cleared the threshold. However, from the original 1% to the current 3.25% – every time the threshold has risen, so has vote wastage. In recent times, guilty parties included New Right with 138,598 wasted votes, Zehut with 118,031, Otzma Yehudit with 83,609 and 19,402 and Gesher’s 74,701.

New parties announcing runs include Gideon Saar’s New Hope, Ron Huldai’s The Israelis, Ofer Shelah’s Tnufa, Yaron Zelekha’s The Economic Party and Danny Yatom’s Veterans Party. Expect at least three of the latter four not to make it over the threshold along with Otzma if they run again. The more parties announced by stubborn individuals who refuse a joint run – the more likely vote wastage will occur once again.

So why do it? Because the potential payoff for success is huge. Any party holding the minimum four Knesset seats has the potential to become a coalition king-maker and demand prestigious ministries of which they are far undeserving.

The solution:

By reducing the threshold it will allow more of these smaller parties to enter the Knesset, thereby helping ensure the votes aren’t wasted and in theory, increase the chances of a coalition being formed.

2. Portfolio distribution based on the number of seats held 

A minority should never be able to hold the majority to ransom.

In the failed Unity Government – Benny Gantz wrested away an almost equal number of ministries from the Likud, even though the number of seats (16) he was bringing to the coalition were less than half of the Likud’s (36). The remnants of Blue and White, along with Labour, entered the coalition and all received ministerial positions, including the prestigious ministries of Justice, Foreign Affairs and Defense.

This inevitably led to much disappointment amongst the Likud where Bibi had a limited number of ministries to hand out and resorted to splitting or creating ministries to try and quell any dissent. It didn’t work as Zeev Elkin’s infamous ‘Minister of Higher Education and Water’ along with the most bloated Knesset in history demonstrate. There was also no room to satisfy Yamina as Bibi proposed what he believed to be a proportional offer of ministries, only to be rejected and see Yamina head to the opposition amid accusations of ungratefulness for their loyalty to the Bibi-bloc.

The solution:

The most prominent and in-demand portfolios in the Knesset include the Justice, Health, Foreign, Defense and Education ministries.

To prevent the minority calling the shots, each prominent ministry should require a party to have a minimum number of Knesset seats to qualify for the portfolio. The value of these ministries should be determined by factors including its average budget allocation, history of the portfolio in previous Knessets and whether or not these ministries are part of the inner security cabinet.

A committee of experts would be needed to create the rankings, but the goal is clear – no small party has the right to demand any prestigious ministries – even if they are the last piece of the coalition puzzle. They can only request what their number of seats entitles them to ask for.

And if they refuse to enter the coalition?

3. Not willing to play ball or pick a side? Say goodbye to your votes…

This might sound extreme but bear with me. We are now heading into our fourth elections in two years – and in no big part thanks to Yisrael Beiteinu whose leader Avigdor Lieberman is the master of NO. He said NO to Bibi, NO to Arabs, NO to Haredim and NO to leftists. He was likely offered everything from a generous spread of portfolios to eventually becoming Prime Minister – yet stubbornly refused to bring his seats to any coalition including the Haredim.

Be sure that Avigdor Lieberman is perhaps the biggest hypocrite of all as he sat for years with the Haredi parties and had pretty decent and respectful relationships with the Rabbinical figureheads of the Haredi world.

Yisrael Beitenu has no real platform yet can consistently count on winning the Russian vote which based on recent results nets between 5-8 seats. Those seats could have formed a government three times. It was Lieberman who practically toppled the original government in 2019 and it was Lieberman who chose not to support any coalition – thus forcing endless rounds of elections.

The solution:

If you are not willing to align your party with any potential coalition – then your votes should be given to those who are willing to sit together and form a government.

The votes should be split amongst the remaining parties who crossed the threshold – and allocated proportionally to any faction willing to sit together.

While some of these ideas may sound unrealistic – if any of them were actually put into place and it broke the cycle of endless elections – wouldn’t it be worthwhile?

About the Author
London born, always felt Israeli - now I officially am. Sephardi of Iraqi-Indian heritage and take pride in my roots. Believes in fighting the good fight, even if it involves swimming against the current when it comes to religion, food and politics.
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