Sunday, February 8, 2009

Israel needs Electoral Reform

The Israeli electoral system is in dire need for change. Elections are supposed to be held every 4 years. The last time a elections were held 4 years apart was 1988. The last time a Government lasted for 4 years under the same Prime Minister was Menachem Begin 1977-1981. As the government is constantly struggling for survival it is unable to focus on long term goals of the country.

Another problem is that it is nearly impossible to get rid of the less productive politicians without bring in criminal charges. Party lists are designed to protect the top party brass making them immune to the shifts in voter accountability. Benjamin Netanyahu was able to push his rival Moshe Feiglen from an almost guaranteed spot in the Knesset to a spot on the list where he had an outside chance of getting. He then fumbled the election campaign which insure he is out of the Knesset until the next election.

Kadimah faced a similar type of challenge getting rid of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. It took a long time to engineer the leadership review. Then they had to convince Olmert not to run. Once Livni took over as chair of the party, she had 28 days to form a government. When she failed to do that elections were called for 3 months later which falls out on Tuesday. During this time Olmert has taken the country to war and tried to negotiate peace treaties that would be binding on future governments. He also regularly made statements that contradicted and undermined where Livni was trying to take the party. The fact that he no longer had the moral authority to continue to govern was completely irrelevant.

Last week, Livni took time to express her support for electoral reform. She specifically pointed out the idea to raise the amount of votes on a non-confidence motion from 61 (out of 120) to 80. She believes that this will allow the Prime Minister to focus on governing and to serve out a full term.

Apparently Livni has not learned from efforts to oust Olmert from the Prime Minister chair. A government needs to the confidence of the Knesset in order to govern. If they are unable to pass legislation because they cannot get a majority of support, it does not matter how many votes are need to oust the Prime Minister. Israel would still be left with a lame-duck Prime Minister unable to accomplish anything because their hands have been tied by the Knesset. Taking away the mechanism of an election to correct such a stalement weakens the Prime Minister.

Israel has the lowest threshold of support in the world for getting into government. It only takes 2% of the popular vote to gaurentee a spot. This allows single issue parties to hold the balance of power in government. Eliminating the smallest extreme parties will allow the main parties to build towards governing from the centre of the political spectrum. Is there really a need for two marijuana parties? The Green Leaf Party and the Green Leaf/Holocaust Survivor party should have enough in common to operate as one party. Raising the bar to 5% would create much more stable government.

Cabinet Ministers are another major sticky point in electoral reform. Minister positions are given out as rewards/incentives for parties to join the government. Cabinet Ministers don't need to be MKs. Yisrael Betaynu has a policy of resigning Knesset seats in order to sit in the cabinet. The empty seats are replaced by those next in line on the party list. Current ideas to reform the system include limiting the amount of cabinet posts and the Norwegian law.

Limiting the Prime Ministers ability to use patronage appointments to suit political means. This lays the ground work for the possibility of a more honest government. The Norwegian law forces all members of the cabinet to resign from the Knesset. This makes the executive branch completely accountable to the legislative branch. Under most political climates this would not be beneficial. Once a bill has been passed through the cabinet there is tremendous pressure for MKs to rubber stamp it through. Forcing legislation to come up through the Knesset helps relieve the pressure.

While it is good that changing the system is important, the biggest issue has not been addressed. Voters need to have the ability to hold their leaders accountable for their actions. In a straight Proportional Representation system it simply cannot happen. Ontario rightfully rejected a form of Mixed Proportional Representation in the last election. It was a system where there are two ballots one for an MP and one for a party. Israel and Mixed Proportional Representation would be a good fit. Combined with raising the minimum popular vote to 5%, we could finally one day see political stability. A stable government helps the government resolve the major issues that have been plaguing Israel for decades.

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