Shimon Sheves

The Failure of the Election Cannot Be Blamed on the Electoral Threshold

When an election campaign fails or a political party does not keep its promises to the public and to its supporters in particular, there is a tendency to justify this failure by blaming the electoral threshold. However, the electoral threshold is not the true cause for failure. The time has come to take a good look at the last election and to draw strategic, meaningful conclusions from it before the one in September. This is the only way for us to fundamentally change Israel’s political landscape.

Getting fixated on the electoral threshold merely reflects the helplessness of politicians, public figures, and citizens with respect to the election results. In reality, the electoral threshold is an unpredictable factor in every election and is nothing new in this regard. Therefore, I propose that the parties take the reins into their own hands. They should stop just letting things happen by themselves in the hope that a miracle will somehow mitigate the effect of the electoral threshold. They need to be taking strategic action now that will have a major impact on the upcoming election.

Stop Blaming the Electoral Threshold

The right-wing bloc recently blamed its failure to form a government on the fact that the parties of Moshe Feiglin and Naftali Bennett did not pass the electoral threshold. This explanation is based on a retroactive mathematical calculation. When examined closely, however, we can see that it is divorced from reality. After all, the center-left could also make the same argument using the excuse that the Arabs did not go to the polls to vote. The Arabs have enough of a constituency for at least 15 Knesset seats yet they only won 10 seats due to rifts and a failure to reach the electoral threshold. Those who voted for Orly Levy, who did not make it past the electoral threshold, are also considered to be center-left. It is clear that each side has its own arguments and that the electoral threshold does not constitute a reasonable explanation for the failure of either of them.

This explanation also rings familiar from the era of Shimon Peres, who lost elections to Begin and Shamir and who also made the electoral threshold argument. In his explanation to the nation, he blamed his failure on the small parties, such as the Romanians and the Pensioners, which did not pass the threshold. Not only were they not the cause of his failure, it is also entirely unclear if they were aware that he had teamed up with them or if they were interested in teaming up with him.

Politicians use this argument all the time. For example, the argument was made that if the Tehiya Party had made it past the electoral threshold in 1992, then the late Yitzhak Rabin would not have won the election. Yet the facts prove otherwise—Rabin together with Meretz or the Arab parties achieved a blocking majority of 63 seats. In other words, even if Tehiya had crossed the electoral threshold, Rabin would still have achieved a blocking majority. It may have not been one with 63 seats, but it certainly would have been one with 61 or 62 seats, even without Shas.

In conclusion, the time has come to stop making these baseless statements. In both these elections, no one won or lost due to wasted votes.

Learn from Strategic Mistakes and Understand the Current Political Map

Instead of blaming the electoral threshold, it would be better take a look at the political landscape and think forward to September 2019 with the understanding that the only thing that will change the situation in Israel is strategic planning. This should be done sooner rather than later because the window of opportunity is very narrow.

One of the strategic mistakes in the recent election campaign was made by Benny Gantz, Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon, and Gabi Ashkenazi, who chose to join forces with Yair Lapid. This alliance is what affected voter turnout, and poll data has proven this. The Gantz-Lapid merger’s campaign was run by Lapid, whose position on the political map has been static for a very long time. Lapid’s supporters primarily come from Israel’s secular elite, mainly from Tel Aviv. This means that voter turnout for the Yesh Atid Party has a glass ceiling so when it merged with the Israel Resilience Party, that same glass ceiling became applicable to both. It is therefore clear that in order to change the political landscape, the parties must part ways and garner the votes of their supporters separately.

Another essential move is to change the character of Gantz’s party’s list and to bring in Orly Levy and Tzipi Livni. Each of them has political clout as well as more than a few seats that could be brought to the party. If Tzipi Livni were to join, she would bring with her a significant amount of added value. She is a woman who has experience and a say in politics. Gantz’s list contains quite a few people unfamiliar to the public and who do not have enough political weight to establish a broad base of trust. That is why Levy and Livni could boost his list significantly.

The Labor Party and the Meretz Party represent different policies. Therefore, it is also appropriate to consider making a separation here as well, but only on the condition that a significant internal move takes place within the Labor Party. Labor will only be able to make an independent stand in the next election if it is joined by members and supporters from the past. Proof for this are the 24 seats that Yitzhak (Buji) Herzog once garnered. The way to regain these votes is to generate electoral enthusiasm and positive momentum both for the list and for the party leadership by way of open primaries, in a way similar to the system in the United States. In other words, every citizen of the State of Israel who is unaffiliated with any political party would be entitled to take part in the party’s primaries. This is how a party can be built that would reflect the will of the public and that would increase public involvement in the general election. Any other solution, such as leaving the existing party list as is or continuing to hold exclusive party primaries, will cause the Labor Party to have a very limited number of seats that will require it to join Meretz.

If we take a step back and look at the greater picture, there appear to be a number of parties that could have a significant impact on the political landscape in the upcoming election. There is a center-left party led by Lapid. There is a centrist party led by Gantz that would be boosted by Levy and Livni who would gather all the wasted votes that went to Moshe Kahlon so as not to vote for the Likud. People voting for that party would also be able to place their trust in the security trio of Gantz, Bogie, and Ashkenazi. There are also the Arab parties, which are very important. It must not be forgotten that the Arab sector in Israel, which constitutes 20% of the population, can certainly be a partner in a coalition. Even if it is not, it would be able to support a center-left government, as happened in Rabin’s time.

At the end of the day, Benjamin Netanyahu must go, and the only way to create a majority that will block him is to bring votes in from the sane right that would support a centrist party.

The Public Also Bears Responsibility

In conclusion, another piece of data is no less important. One of the factors that may change the political landscape in September is public involvement. Data from the last election shows that voter turnout from the greater Tel Aviv area was 11% lower than the national average. This is where public responsibility is in order. Citizens must snap out of their apathy. Election Day in September has a very clear purpose. The point of that day is not to go to the beach, but to go to the polls. We should all realize that.

About the Author
Shimon Sheves was General Director of the Prime Minister's office under the late Yizhak Rabin. He is currently the Founder and Chairman of HolistiCyber, which provides nation-state level cyber security solution.
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