Take for example, the scenario where candidates A and B combined forces to beat Candidate C. Let’s say that to ensure their victory, Candidates A and B or one of them seek additional support from a non-candidate who will demand that in exchange for his support them, they must support Candidate D, at least to the extent that he provides them with support. Now Candidate D will receive an additional 2000 votes (or more or less depending on the exact deal), potentially enabling him to beat out Candidate C as well. So now, Candidate C has done the worst even though on his own he is the strongest candidate. Again, the possibilities are endless.
The problem stems from the fact, as I explained in my article in the Jerusalem Post at the start of my Knesset campaign, that a very small number of people are registered as members of parties. This is due to the complexities of registering for a party (see the article for more information on that) and the fact that the public doesn’t fully understand how important it is.
In my article, I estimated that about 4.4% of Israeli citizens were registered for a party in which a primary was held. But following the publication of the article, Kadima cancelled its primaries, so that number dropped significantly. As I explained, with such small numbers of people voting, many take advantage and ask friends, family and colleagues to a political party as a favor. The person who does this becomes the most effective, if not only, conduit of information about candidates to those members. In many cases, the new member has registered with the specific goal of voting as instructed by the person who registered him. That person can then bargain with their votes. For example, he can tell a member of Knesset, “I will instruct those I registered to vote for you in exchange for…”
With a relatively small pool of voters, even small numbers (hundreds or even less) matter, and larger, but still relatively small numbers (one thousand or more members) are dominating. Those who master the art of registering members for the purpose of bargaining with their votes are known as vote-contractors. Some of the most effective ones create pyramid schemes by which they can register thousands of voters. Some register the members of an institution such as a yeshiva or a union. As with all people involved in politics, some have selfish motives and others may have idealistic or ideological motives.
Regardless of the motives of the vote-contractor, there is no way for a candidate to win without making deals with other candidates or vote-contractors, unless he is so famous and so beloved that either the vote-contractors endorse him without asking for anything in return or the vote-contractor’s members will disregard their voting instructions and include the candidate on their list regardless . This is what occurred, for example, with Benny Begin in the 2008 Likud primaries, after having been absent from politics for years. To an extent it happened again with him in the 2012 primaries where he received over 20,000 votes and was a little more than two hundred votes shy of winning a secure spot on the Likud list.
The deal system can produce right-wing or left-wing candidates. In general it favors unprincipled candidates because they are willing to do anything – including endorsing candidates whose policies they don’t agree with – in order to get ahead. Over the last few years, however, right-wing ideological interest groups formed within the Likud, mimicking what Moshe Feiglin’s Manhigut Yehudit group did in registering residents of Judea and Samaria to the party and were able to not only support pro-settlement candidates, but judging by the extent of the victory of these candidates – with four of them ranking in the Likud’s top 10 – make deals on their behalf. In this year’s primaries, this effort succeeded in putting ideological candidates on equal footing with their non-ideological counterparts.
Without judging those who work the system, the system as a whole is terrible for democracy. It is the result of a party-list electoral system where the citizen does not choose a representative but a party, and the party chooses the citizens’ representatives in a manner it chooses. This may not be much of a problem for a small party which consists of a small number of people presenting themselves to the public.