A Challenge of Our Time

President Katsav's commission on the government and governance of Israel is scheduled now to present its final report. To carry weight this report has to rest on the reform of the electoral system.

President Katsav's commission on the government and governance of Israel is scheduled now to present its final report. To carry weight this report has to rest on the reform of the electoral system. Under the present circumstances, TR - total representation, or in Hebrew Yitsug Shalem (YESH) - is best suited for that purpose.

TR/YESH fuses the proportional representation as practiced in Israel with the constituency first past the post system (FPTP) practiced in the UK. Put simply this is the same system which has been functioning successfully for hundreds of years in Britain, modified and adapted to the social and political needs of Israel. The thrust of TR/YESH is to compensate those citizens who voted for the unsuccessful candidates, and to afford them indirect representation in the Knesset. It avoids the forays into new untested grounds which gave rise to the debacle of the direct election of the prime minister.

b Israel should be divided into 90 constituencies to elect 90 constituency members of the Knesset (CMK) on the English FPTP model. With the votes cast for these 90 MKs utilized to achieve their election, the balance of the votes - namely those cast for the unsuccessful candidates in the same 90 constituencies - are added together and distributed among those candidates of the various political lists/parties in proportion to their contribution, to elect the other 30 party members of the Knesset (PMK). It is the votes lost to unsuccessful constituency candidates that are used to elect the PMKs from among the same unsuccessful regional candidates, to retain participation access for small parties to the legislator and to ensure some balance in the Knesset. The system can work equally well with increased Knesset seats, provided that a percentage ratio of roughly 75/25 CMKs/PMKs is maintained.

b The cornerstone of this system is the single member constituencies, which creates a bond between the MK and his/her constituents, increasing accountability in the process.

b The new system avoids run-off elections and/or two ballot requirements or complicated mathematical formulas. It renders the undemocratic blocking percentage redundant. It operates one single ballot, thereby minimizing corruption at different pre-election stages. It creates a dynamic of mutual dependence of national parties and their local branches, thus weakening the case for central parties to rely on costly and often corrupt primaries.

b Under TR it is easy for a neutral boundary commission to draw the boundaries for the constituencies on a consecutive territorial basis of equal numbers of voters, not population. It removes from the equation, to a large extent, ethnic or religious considerations. The principles of this self-adjusting system make it particularly difficult to manipulate regions based on such considerations, thus minimizing gerrymandering.

b Single MK constituency, which is the backbone of TR, is of paramount importance for Israel as it draws together - during the process and canvassing preceding election day - all the voters in the constituency irrespective of ethnicity or religion, and pushes the candidates to assume central political positions away from extremist positions, in order to attract all the voters.

b TR/YESH forces the grouping of the present parties and factions into bigger political parties. At the same time, because of its reliance on local groupings, this new system is specifically designed not to jeopardize the rights of the Arab or Haredi or other minorities owing to their clustering in certain areas - for example, the Galilee - in the case of the Arabs and Jerusalem in the case of religious groups. Independent simulations conducted by an academic team highlighted beyond a doubt the safeguard of minorities' votes.

In order to add to the stability of future governments, the introduction of this new electoral system needs to be accompanied by measures to strengthen the cohesion of political parties in the Knesset and the position of the prime minister.

To that purpose every MK whose party forms part of the government should declare allegiance to his/her party at the time of the vote of confidence in the new government of which that party forms a part. This measure is essential to avoid the slow disintegration of the government during the Knesset term. It prevents "Kalanterism" in all its forms. Except for free votes declared by their parties, MKs who vote against their government are deemed to have resigned and would be replaced in the case of PMKs by the next in line on the party list, or through a by-election in the case of CMKs.

Two other requirements are essential to sustain full-term prime ministers: One is confirming him/her by at least a 61-MK majority (i.e. 51 percent). Dismissing him/her should necessitate a majority of, say, 80 or 90 MKs. The other requirement is to give the prime minister the right to appoint all ministers from inside or outside the Knesset, and the power to dismiss and replace them.

However, ministers appointed by the PM from outside the Knesset should be subjected to a Knesset committee hearing. In cases where a minister is appointed from outside the Knesset, an MK is appointed by the minister as Knesset liaison secretary to represent and answer for the ministry in the Knesset. This ensures the supremacy of the Knesset.

The writer is the author of "TR Total Representation" and a member of President Katsav's commission.