November's local authority elections drew about a third of the eligible voters in large towns. Since 40% of the votes are needed to elect a mayor, this means that 15% of the residents of large towns, in fact, chose the person who will manage their lives and those of other residents for the next five years.
Eyal Faradis, the director general of the Afula municipality, published an article in TheMarker following those elections and calculated the number of voters needed to elect a member to the Haifa municipal council at just 2,900. If all of the citizens of Haifa had voted, the number of votes needed to elect a member to the council would have jumped to 7,400 - two and a half times more.
"Small parties and special interest groups are using this to their advantage," Faradis writes. "To get onto the city council, they need a small and well-organized group and a passionate issue, usually of the type that affects the pocket of interested parties. The obstacle of elections becomes easy to overcome, and thus we find ourselves all over the countrywith municipalities made up of very small parties. In Haifa, for instance, there are 14 parties on a council with 31 members."
Faradis, as a manager of a mid-sized city, says the managerial and economic cost of split councils is steep. "Coalition negotiations involve a lot of promises to cohere the many parties. And day-to-day management of the municipality becomes impossible, and its leader subject to perpetual pressure. The result is foot-dragging, delays, and even cancellation of projects, or alternatively, the mayor's ignoring the counciland including it only if required to by law."
Faradis's article, those technical detailes, are not as interesting as gadding about with clever bumper stickers and making impassioned speeches about how important it is to vote for the person who truly represents us, the young people, Dov Khenin, Green Leaf and that guy who proposes a blanket pardon of parking tickets or the one who suggests that we fight crime. It's interesting to scorn the big, bourgeois parties that have lost touch with the people long ago and it's good to feel involved and democratic by voting for ideological splinter parties. But the result, as Faradis's astute analysis notes, is far from inspiring. In fact, it's far from democracy, as municipal councils are barely functional and mayors are ignoring them as a result.
The kind of damage that the recent elections caused to the future of municipal councils would prove far graver in the case of Knesset elections. One cannot but be awed by the enormous recruitment of young people who cast a protest vote in the last elections against the big parties and voted ultimately for the Pensioners Party. The young people fell in love with the idea of promoting the rights of the elderly, and fell no less in love with the protest element of their vote.
But in the flush of love they forgot to check who it was they were voting for - what was their platform and primarily who its members are and just how worthy they were to serve as Knesset members. We saw the price of this vote in the party's embarrassing capers in the Knesset.
It's easy to fall in love with elections in Israel. They are the most romantic in the world, because they allow every voter to realize their ideological dream and vote for the party that perfectly represents their particular position. And so, before every election, fields of tiny, very ideological parties bloom - niche parties for the most part, and all very enthusiastic about their central idea. And voters, disappointed with the cynicism of the big parties, tend to find moralistic escape in these ideological parties. The only problem is, in the end, when the romanticism and ideology dies down, the hard work remains. The work of managing a nation.
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