Thursday, January 19, 2006

The electoral system in Israel is broken ...

and needs to be scrapped. It just does not work for many reasons. Some of the things can be fixed but many cannot. Here are some of the problems:
  1. No one actually represents you in the Knesset. There is no one MK the average person can turn to if they have a problem. MK's are chosen in various different ways, but unless you are active in party politics you have no representation.

  2. The Knesset is based on a list based system. You vote for a party not for any specific people. Yet once in the Knesset an MK can do whatever he wants including taking his seat and creating a new party as Sharon and the Likud MK's did. That is a complete and utter perversion of the democratic process. None of them were elected, the Likud was elected and therefore the seat should not be theirs.

  3. There are too many small parties. Since elections are on a national basis, anyone who can get 2.5% of the vote (and in the past it was even less) is in the Knesset. This makes every government unstable and at the mercy of extortion by small 1 issue parties.

  4. MK's are chosen in various ways most of which are undemocratic. Kadima is clearly undemocratic, 1 man is deciding the list. But even the Labor party which has primaries is not really democratic for the following reasons:
    • Various people are protected, for example, the 6th spot is reserved for a woman, the 9th spot for this person etc.

    • A primary in which 90 people run and you have to pick among them is a bit silly. It is very hard for the average voter to rank 90 candidates, in fact to even know what all the 90 candidates stand for and therefore, the vote is not that relevant.

I believe that Israel needs to make a large percentage of the Knesset seats district based. Create 90 districts (3/4 of the Knesset) and have 1 MK represent a district (and impose a residency requirement). The other 30 seats would be allocated based on the current system but with a much higher threshold like 10%. This would allow the large parties to have their leaders protected and be able to devote themselves to the larger picture while still enabling every one to have a representative. Alternatively, adopt the British system where every seat is district based. The advantages of this plan are:
  • Every person has a representative that they can turn to

  • This would eliminate many of the smaller parties

  • Anyone could run to be an MK from a district

  • The MK's would need to be more responsive to the needs of people not from their group in society. Imagine a district with a sizable Charedi population (20%). Whoever would represnt that district would need to take the Charedim into account, their support could swing the election. We might actually get a chiloni represnting Charedi interests in the Knesset and vice versa. It would create a lot more understanding and a lot less posturing.

The other alternative is a Presidention system like the US. I am against that for 1 simple reason. if you look around the world, presidential regimes often turn into dictatorships, the President ends up being much more powerful then the legislature and dominates. On the other hand, there has never been a parliamentary democracy that become a dictatorship, it simply can't happen because the Prime Minister is just an MK.

The bottom line is that the system in Israel is utterly broken and needs to be changed. Unfortunately, there are many people with vested interests in the current system which will make it very difficult to change. Sharon could have pulled it off (and wanted to change the system), I don't know if anyone else has the power or even the will.


Anonymous said...

Maybe I am naieve, but I thought the US-system of a president and checks and balances works well. g-dub isnt a dictator (say waht you might about the war in iraq).

There was an article in Hamishpacha recently in which they discussed sharons plan to make a presidentatorship (or someting like that) and the chareidi MKs came out strongly against it. I didnt understand why. Being form american originally, i hear waht youre saying about the district accountability.

bluke said...

The chareidim are against it because it would cut their representation. They would not have 6 MK's.

The US is the exception to the rule about Presidential democracies.

Anonymous said...

While they will not have 6 MKs, they, and Shas, would be a force to be reckoned with. Much more so than in America.

Unless the feeling is that the break up of districts will hurt them as most chareidis are in yerushalayim and BB...

Anonymous said...

"the US is the exception to the rule about Presidential democracies."

so incorporate checks and balances like the US does. It's a better system.

bluke said...

The point is that it is very difficult. Look around the world, off the top of my head,Venezuela, Zimbabwe, etc. these are all Presidentail systems where the President has assumed tremendous poweer.

Anonymous said...

excellent analysis Bluke. Well done.

Anonymous said...

there has never been a parliamentary democracy that become a dictatorship, it simply can't happen

Germany was a parliamentary democracy prior to 1933.

Anonymous said...

Create 90 districts (3/4 of the Knesset) and have 1 MK represent a district (and impose a residency requirement). The other 30 seats would be allocated based on the current system but with a much higher threshold like 10%.

Why stop there? Why not have the entire house district based. UK has done very well with this for some time.

bluke said...

Germany was not a strict Parliamentary Democracy. The republic's government was a mixed strong president and parliamentary system, with the president seen by many as a sort of substitute Kaiser. The president was elected by popular direct ballot to a seven-year term and could be reelected. He appointed the chancellor and, pursuant to the chancellor's nominations, also appointed the cabinet ministers. As soon as you have a directly elected President the situation is different.

bluke said...

I would not be opposed to 100% district based, however there some issues. In the British system you have safe districts and MK's do not need to reside in their district. I think a residency requirement is a good thing. Also, it makes the senior members of the government need to deal with local politics in order to get re-elected. I am not sure that that is a good thing.

In any case, I agree that such a system would be better then the current system.

bluke said...

The president had the right to dismiss the cabinet, dissolve the Reichstag, and veto legislation. The legislative powers of the Reichstag were further weakened by the provision for presidential recourse to popular plebiscite. Article 48, the so-called emergency clause, accorded the president the right to allow the cabinet to govern without the consent of parliament whenever it was deemed essential to maintaining public order. This is waht allowed Hitler to become a dictator. In a system like Israel's or the UK's you can never govern without parliament period.

Natan said...

Bluke, you posted nearly word for word what I've been thinkin for a few years.

I'm not so keen on the 30 extra seats for general election, but it does have its merits.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

Ever hear of Gerrymandering? The ones who create the districts will determine the outcome of the election.

bluke said...

Gerrymandering happens in the US because the politicians are in charge of drawing the lines. In Iowa however, there is a non-partisan committee that draws the lines that is not allowed to take into account political considerations. There is no gerrymandering there. This is what I would envision in Israel.