The Foundation for Constitutional Democracy

05-Jul-1999

10 Short Position Papers - III

Filed under: Electorate/Demographics Papers — admin @ 1:37 pm

III - Electoral Thresholds
Professor Paul Eidelberg July 5, 1999.

Electoral thresholds, like age qualifications for voting or for holding office, are not entirely arbitrary. We know that a 3% electoral threshold for the Knesset would have no significant affect on the number of parties in the Knesset. Had a 3% threshold been operative in the May 1996 elections, it would have eliminated three parties, except that the parties endangered by such a threshold would have formed joint lists. A 4% threshold would have eliminated two other parties, but they too would have combined with one or another party.

After one or two elections, a 5% threshold would produce a Knesset with no more than five parties or party coalitions. Since these coalitions would have to campaign on a common platform, this would tend to enlarge their political horizons and minimize extremism. With no more than five parties in the Knesset—improving its deliberations—the Cabinet would consist of two or three parties. This would facilitate more coherent and resolute national policies and thus contribute to national unity and national security.

Now, if the Knesset rejects a 5% threshold on grounds that it would eliminate small parties, one may argue: (1) democracy is not well-served by excessive pluralism; (2) the entire nation, including small parties, suffers as a consequence of fragmented Government; (3) small parties may better accomplish their objectives by working within larger parties.
However, if this argument fails to convince opponents of a 5% threshold, I offer an alternative method of minimizing the harmful effects of fragmented, coalition cabinet government.

Let us suppose a majority of the Knesset will support nothing higher than a 3% threshold. As noted, this threshold would still fragment the cabinet. However, we all know that the Knesset, early on, required a party to have six seats to be represented on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and we know the reason for this “threshold.” With equal reason the Knesset could require a party to have six or even eight seats to be represented in the Cabinet!

This “cabinet” threshold would not only reduce the shabbiness that characterizes the formation of coalition cabinet governments; it would also conduce to more coherent and resolute national policies. In fact, a six-seat “cabinet” threshold would encourage small parties to form joint electoral lists so as to qualify for cabinet posts! Such a threshold would be comparable to having a 5% electoral threshold! However, by inducing small parties to form and campaign on joint lists, a “cabinet” threshold would enlarge their political horizons and thereby conduce to greater national unity!

As noted in Position Paper I, however, our Foundation recommends a presidential system of government that avoids cabinet fragmentation. I simply offer here a fallback position.