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One claim repeatedly made by Finance Minister Silvan Shalom over the last two years was that it was difficult to get economic decisions through the cabinet and the Knesset Finance Committee, since the coalition contained a large number of parties and relatively few Likud MKs. Even Likud MKs are not always in agreement, especially in light of the rivalry between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Now, however, the once-shriveled Likud (19 MKs) has become the largest party in the Knesset, with 38 MKs. Thus the only problem that remains is the large number of parties that will form the next Knesset and the next coalition. Every party has its own agenda, and it is very hard to change, streamline or cut when every tiny faction defends the sector that it represents. And when the finance minister is forced to cave in to splinter parties, it is impossible to implement reforms.

Thirteen parties were elected to the 16th Knesset and this is too many. In this week's election, the electoral threshold (1.5 percent of valid votes cast) stood at some 44,500 votes, while each Knesset seat required some 24,000 votes.

Due to the low electoral threshold, 27 parties competed in the election, of which 14 failed to pass the threshold. Herut received 34,000 votes; Green Leaf, 31,000; the Green Party, 12,000; and so forth. In total, about 100,000 votes were wasted due to the hopes that the low threshold raises - and this is damaging to democracy.

An examination of several European countries, including Germany, Russia and the Czech Republic, reveals that there, the electoral threshold is 5 percent of the valid votes cast. If Israel's threshold were 5 percent, the smallest faction would contain 6 MKs, and 150,000 votes would be needed to enter the Knesset.

In such a situation, Herut, Green Leaf, the Green Party, Yisrael Aheret, Ahavat Yisrael, the Center Party and Tsomet would never even have run. Instead, they would have joined other parties. The two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, would have fielded a joint list, since UTJ traditionally wins no more than five seats. The three Arab parties would also have merged into one, while One Nation (which won three seats) would perhaps have joined Meretz and Yisrael b'Aliyah would have joined the National Union.

The net result is that instead of 13 parties, there would only be eight - a far more normal situation.

In the current situation, Ariel Sharon ought to form a rightist government, without Labor, so that we can resume being a normal democracy with a coalition and an opposition. But with an electoral threshold of 5 percent, he would have needed many fewer coalition partners - and as a result, his chances of implementing the Finance Ministry's grand plans for budget cuts, streamlining and structural reforms of the economy would have been much greater. Therefore, the 16th Knesset should raise the electoral threshold to 5 percent - because stability is also important to a democratic regime.