It isn’t every day that the Prime Minister of Israel adopts an idea proposed by yours truly, first introduced on the pages of JewishPress.com.
Though for the sake of transparency, other MKs have brazenly taken ideas we’ve proposed at the Muqata Think-Tank and then claimed them for their own, and we’ve been told that Netanyahu is also familiar with Jameel’s very successful Scotch whiskey counter-boycott.
On Monday, Prime Minister Netanyahu introduced an electoral reform plan that would “revolutionize” the Israeli multi-party system, and move us over to a two-party system.
The idea is that the party with the most seats would automatically form the government and appoint the Prime Minister, without needing to form a coalition, or go to the President of Israel.
If this sounds familiar to you, it should, because in December I analyzed the problem with our current system, and provided that solution.
The JewishPress.com was even kind enough to put one of those Asher Schwartz cartoons on it.
A Solution Within the Existing Framework So what can be done now with what we have?
If Israel wants to stay with the parliamentary system, the solution is not as complex as you might think. It requires two steps.
First of all, remove the minimum electoral threshold. Let people vote for whom they want.
The second is, let the head of the largest elected party become the Prime Minister, automatically, with no requirement at all to assemble a coalition to form the government.
I then explain why this will work — because people in Israel vote strategically, they want to get a specific Prime Minister, along with specific platforms or MKs:
The Intended Consequences What do I foresee happening?
Only the die-hards will vote for the small parties. Most everyone else will want to make sure the Prime Minister comes from the biggest party that represents them the closest.
We would see a lot of parties consolidating automatically.
There will be a natural push to make sure the Likud or Labor becomes the biggest party.
Unfortunately, Netanyahu seems to have left out an incredibly important component of the idea – removing the minimum electoral threshold.
And that reminds me of the other half-baked change he made in 1996 — introducing direct elections for the Prime Minster, but without simultaneously introducing it for the Knesset too.
Removing the minimum threshold is critical for my idea to work properly – and Mr. Netanyahu, I know you’re reading this, so pay attention… .
If Israel ends up with a binary-based majority system, where you vote for a party and not individuals, and there are only two parties in the Knesset, you will have implemented a tyranny of democracy onto Israel. For four years the winner will run roughshod over the loser, and it will always be win-lose; the opposition might as well not even show up for work.
For democracy to work properly, citizens need an effective opposition capable of opposing the majority, at least in the worst case scenarios.
It’s important to remember, unlike the U.S., Israel doesn’t have truly separate executive and legislative branches, with the checks and balances that brings. Instead, Israel has a legislative branch whose members also make up the executive branch.
In Netanyahu’s version of my idea, if Labor (or whatever they call themselves) won and wanted to implement another Disengagement or Oslo 5, there would be no way to stop it in Netanyahu’s binary-based Knesset, as Labor would always have an automatic majority.
Nor could there even be a legislature vs. executive conflict to fight it out; in Netanyahu’s version it simply can’t happen.
The other problem is that by forcing people to vote A or B, thereby guaranteeing only A and B get into the Knesset, a significant enough percent of Israeli society will not be represented. You will be disenfranchising segments of the population.
Voting levels will drop as people see no reason to vote for a party that can ignore them, knowing there is no alternative.
By removing the threshold, you don’t exclude people who don’t fit into category A or B.
This will have two consequences, both incredibly important:
1) You don’t need a 61 vote majority for most run-of-the-mill legislation to pass, so having a few small parties won’t make a difference on most votes.
But on more important issues, the society changing ones, you do not want to give an automatic pass to the biggest party (think Oslo, Disengagement) – YOU WANT THEM TO WORK HARD FOR IT before they can throw you out of your home.
2) By allowing the small 1 or 2 man parties to be get in, you create a real reason for the big parties to pay attention to the individual sectors internally.
If the Likud knows that the Israeli-Arabs and Hareidim (just to name two obvious examples) may vote for an Israeli-Arab or Hareidi party instead of them and they will get into the Knesset, the big parties will make sure that Israeli-Arabs and Hareidim are included on their party’s list and paid attention to, to get and keep that sector’s vote.
I highly recommend you read my original analysis of the election idea, and the implementation.
And Mr. Prime Minister – I am available for consultation – you know how to reach me.