The foreign reporters were at a loss. They couldn't explain to their listeners abroad how two candidates could be claiming victory when there was no clear result. One claimed "the people have spoken" because Kadima received the most votes, while the other said "the people have decided" because the right-wing bloc emerged as the largest.
Even Barack Obama had trouble understanding it. He called Shimon Peres to ask the latter to explain the Israeli electoral system to him. For how could an American understand a system of government in which an election concludes without a clear victor, and without a stable, long-lasting government?
And the truth is that it really doesn't matter all that much who puts together the next government, Netanyahu or Livni. Either way, it won't last more than two years and won't accomplish much. This is our track record: 32 governments in 61 years.
The moment a prime minister takes over the job, he begins the countdown to the end. With our system of government, small parties determine the agenda. No party can obtain a clear majority, and thus the prime minister is compelled to establish a coalition comprised of numerous parties with different and conflicting interests. He is compelled to shell out billions so that tiny, sector-based parties will deign to enter his government, and to commit himself to conflicting and watered-down principles that will prevent him from jumpstarting any political process or introducing any significant reforms. If he still dares to do those things, one of the parties will resign and he'll be left without a coalition, and it's back to elections. This is why stagnation and lack of meaningful activity are the lifeblood of any government. Just try to get something big moving and you're history.
Within the parties themselves, factionalism is rife as well. Olmert was unable to control the members of his party, and Livni will also fail in this regard. The same goes for Netanyahu and Barak. Because the moment an MK is elected, he immediately starts up his campaign for the next election, and the only way he can stand out is to act as the opposition within his own party.
The system is also terrible because it brings to the Knesset not the best and the brightest, but the biggest operators. To get elected to the Knesset, you have to put in appearances at an endless stream of bar-mitzvahs and weddings, grovel to party "activists" and set up jobs for them. Quality people are not elected this way.
A prime minister in Israel is always operating under the threat of early elections. He knows that any process of reform or change takes time, so if he initiates something of this kind during his first year in office, it won't really bear fruit until the third or fourth year. But he also knows that he has practically zero chance of lasting that long, so he won't seek to institute any change. Why take the risk and open himself up to a barrage of criticism when someone else will end up reaping the reward?
The result is that a prime minister in Israel does not invest in the truly important things: education, infrastructure, transportation, public sector reforms, streamlining the local authorities, reducing the defense budget or dismantling settlements.
Our constantly changing governments also mean that ministers and ministry director generals last no more than a short time on the job. This spawns tremendous inefficiency, with each new minister canceling all his predecessor's programs and starting over from scratch. Otherwise, how would we know that he had arrived?
For all of these reasons, the system of government must be changed to ensure four-year governmental stability. The prime minister must be assured this span of time, at a minimum, in order to restore his ability to govern. At the end of the four years, on a predetermined date (as in the United States), new elections would be held.
For the prime minister to be able to govern effectively, the number of parties in the Knesset must also be reduced. It makes no sense for such a small country to have 12 different parties elected to its parliament. This objective can be achieved either by significantly raising the electoral threshold or by emulating the British majority system (in which the winning candidate must receive more than half of the votes). Obviously, this would come at the expense of small parties, which would be compelled to unite and give up their aspiration of representing certain very narrow sectors. But this is the only way that stability and efficiency can be achieved.
We all enviously observed the recent U.S. presidential election, in which Barack Obama triumphed. He can choose whatever cabinet secretaries he wishes, including people from the rival party and businesspeople. He can carry out reforms and revolutionary policy changes, and remain in power for four full years even though he won just an 8 percent majority of the votes.
Now there is an extraordinary opportunity to change the system in Israel. The leaders of the four largest parties have all declared that the electoral system must be changed. To achieve this, a government composed of Kadima, Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and Labor should be established. This government would remain in power for one year only. It would pass a law in the Knesset granting the prime minister four years, defying the wrath of the small parties. At the end of one year, we would hold new elections with the new system, and thereby, at long last, cure Israeli politics of its critical illness: instability.
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