Mark Lewis
Mark Lewis

Is Israel too democratic?

An Israeli soldier casts his early vote in the March 23 general election, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis, at a mobile polling station at a military base, near Kibbutz Regavim, Israel March 17, 2021. REUTERS/Corinna Kern. Via Jewish News
An Israeli soldier casts his early vote in the March 23 general election, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis, at a mobile polling station at a military base, near Kibbutz Regavim, Israel March 17, 2021. REUTERS/Corinna Kern. Via Jewish News

Before the social media warriors reach for their keyboard and start crying “fascist”, I would ask them to read this ‘blog to the end, judging articles on their content and not their headline.

Having made aliyah 28 months ago, I now find myself a veteran of Israeli General Elections, having voted as many times here as I did between 1983 and 2001 in the UK, and facing the likelihood of another later this year. Israel is ruled by the Rule of Law, that is the law of unintended consequences.

A political system that cannot produce a government is broken. The flaw is in the system itself. New parties claim that this time they will work together to create a bloc that will serve a full term. They won’t. The Knesset (Israeli Parliament) has 120 seats, contested by nearly 50 parties. After an election, no winner is announced, sure the largest party might get 30 plus seats but no party can enter power unless a coalition is formed taking the party over the magic 61 seat threshold.

That means that the power vests not in the electorate, not in the largest party, but the minority party that can sell its support, to Left or Right for the highest price, “a couple of ministries, sure, veto on policy of course, a stint as Prime Minister, certainly”.

After that high price is paid to give power to the “king maker” that very few voted for, a government with a slender majority is formed, which is held to ransom to the whim of the one politician who wants to change sides.

What is the answer? First past the post, constituencies? Problematic as whether you view territories as “occupied” or “disputed”, without annexation the inhabitants cannot vote. Single Transferable Votes? The voters of the smaller parties that do not reach a threshold, put their second, third and fourth choices etc down until a stable government is formed. Problematic too, get that system wrong and exclude those with interests that need representation.

A US style time limit on the length of time a PM can serve?, 10 years or 15 elections, whichever comes first.

Unless the electoral system is fixed nothing else will be. All politicians need to work out how electoral reform can work to achieve a synthesis of stable government and fair representation of all. A commission needs to be established that allows electoral reform before Israel voters give up voting.

In theory List System Proportional Representation is the purest form of democracy, in practical terms it just encourages haggling short termism.

About the Author
Mark Lewis is a lawyer with Patron Law
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