The press reports that 43 parties are registered to run in Israel’s February 10, 2009 Knesset elections. This absurd phenomenon is the direct consequence of Israel’s (divisive) parliamentary electoral system.
As I have frequently pointed out, Israel, contrary almost all other reputed democracies, makes the country a single electoral district in which a multiplicity of party slates compete for Knesset seats on the basis Proportional Representation. This multiplicity of parties is compounded by Israel’s low electoral threshold, now 2%.
Although the Foundation for Constitutional Democracy prefers personal and direct election of Knesset members, the very least the next Knesset can do is to raise the electoral threshold, say to 4%. This would effectively eliminate most parties and compel others to run on a joint list.
A 4% threshold—once proposed by the late MK Rehavim Ze’evi—would probably lead to four party coalitions: a left-center coalition, a right-center coalition, a religious coalition, and an Arab coalition. Running on a joint list would tend to enlarge the mentality of each of the parties composing a coalition, since they would have to campaign on a common party platform.
The Knesset might also consider the practice of some countries that require a higher electoral threshold for any party coalition—say 6%. The result would be less diversity or fragmentation within each coalition.
Not that I want to eliminate diversity. Diversity belongs in the legislative branch of government. The trouble is, much of the diversity in the Knesset is extended into the cabinet, into the executive branch of government, and this is pernicious. It makes it almost impossible for the government to pursue a coherent and resolute as well as long-term national strategy.
It cannot be said too often that, thanks to multiparty cabinet government, in which rival parties compete for purse and power, the average duration of an Israeli government is merely two years, while the average duration of cabinet portfolios is only 18 months! Constantly preoccupied with partisan politics, is it any wonder that Israel’s government is incapable of dealing promptly and efficiently with the nation’s problems?
The electoral threshold proposed here will bring the average Israeli government much closer to the prescribed four-year term. This will increase political stability and efficiency. It will also tend to diminish political corruption and amateurishness and thereby raise the level of Israeli politics.