As the Likud determines its Knesset list in elections to be held today, one might appraise the party's likely presence in the next parliament by looking closely at Shas' 17 MKs in the outgoing Knesset. Shas is the vanguard of a political culture that has converted the Knesset into a marketplace of hucksters who trade sectarian interests and personal benefits in exchange for vital state concerns, and the welfare of its citizens. Likud is following Shas' lead.
At first glance, there appears to be a major difference between the systems used by the two parties to determine their Knesset lists. With Shas, a Council of Torah Sages, led by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, dictates the party's candidates, on the basis of preferences discreetly relayed at one time by Aryeh Deri, and subsequently by Eli Yishai. With the Likud, the party's central committee, chosen in elections that involve all registered party members, performs this candidate-making function. Though this difference is significant, it is misleading to dwell on it, for it obscures the fundamental similarity between the two parties: Many people who reach the Knesset and are unknown to the public, were not chosen as a reward for public service, and lack any political agenda other than a desire to enhance their personal status or the sectarian interests of the group with which they are affiliated.
Shas MKs Yitzhak Vaknin, Amnon Cohen, Itzhak Gagula, Rahamim Melloul, and Ofir Hugi did not leave a deep mark on Israel's parliamentary life. They reached the Knesset because Shas managed in the last elections to enlarge its share in the parliament to 17 seats. They took their seats without suitable preparation for parliamentary roles; any contribution they made is hard to find. Like veteran Shas MKs, they reached the Knesset believing that their sole duty was to promote the interest of Shas voters (in other words, they were to carry out Rabbi Yosef's orders).
The Likud is currently undergoing a similar process. Poll results indicate that the party is likely to double its number of Knesset seats in the January elections. This scenario excites the 145 people who appeal to Likud center members today, asking for relatively high positions on the party's Knesset list. A large number of them seek election for reasons of personal prestige, rather than a public service ethos. They lack proven public service records, and have thrown their hats into the ring due to ambitions to move ahead with their careers. They vie for a spot on the party list by using outrageous measures, some of which include the purchasing of votes with money. These political neophytes fail to grasp that this system damages the Knesset's prestige, and (ironically) that the harm to the Knesset slows their own advance in society.
No election system, neither within the parties nor for the Knesset, is devoid of flaws. Primaries were instituted in Israel as a response to the establishment of the (now defunct) direct prime ministerial election system. By making it appear that parties were being opened up so that all registered members had a say about who would run for the Knesset, the primaries created a veneer of democratization. Yet the primaries have exacted a cost which, it seems, exceeds their utility: They have encouraged fictitious party membership registration, deal-making and patterns of dependence between candidates and party voters. They have turned the Knesset into an arena full of wheelers and dealers; the parliament has lost its stature as a venue in which important matters of national interest are considered on the basis of the parties' ideological outlooks.
Parties must adjust their internal selection systems to the new, restored reality in which voters in national elections cast ballots for just one party, and not for prime ministerial candidates. Such adjustments are particularly important in the Likud's case, both because it is the country's biggest party, and because authority to choose its Knesset list has been transferred from the party's registered members to the 2,940 central committee members. The cost of this transfer of authority will be clear tonight, when the composition of the Likud Knesset list is announced.
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