Why is it that almost everybody is dissatisfied with the results of elections? Because those whose favorites ended up winning are convinced that they should have won by a larger margin, while those whose favorites came out behind are convinced that they would have won, if only the electoral system were different. So blame the system. Even though the State of Israel has done remarkably well in the past 60 years, absorbed immigrants from around the world, won wars, defeated terrorists, developed a thriving economy, the country is still considered "ungovernable" and will go to rack and ruin unless the electoral system is changed.
Israel is a parliamentary democracy whose electoral system is based on proportional representation. This provides a fair representation for the different groups and parties in Israeli society and produces coalition governments, whereby a number of parties agree on common guidelines that will determine government policy. The process of coalition building, guided by the president, usually takes a few weeks, which naturally makes many impatient, but it is quite common among parliamentary democracies around the world. It is true that coalition governments are necessarily governments of compromise, and are accused of being in a state of paralysis. But this accusation comes from people who call for action, any action, at all costs. Do something, do anything, they say. Not very good advice.
This time we were witness to somewhat amusing, if not bizarre behavior, by the leader of Kadima, which had clearly lost the election. Tzipi Livni claimed she had won, provided the country with lectures on first-grade arithmetic, namely that 28 (the Knesset seats her party had won) was a larger number than 27 ( the number of seats the Likud party had won), and then went on to arrange a number of "victory" celebrations in which the entire Kadima leadership was seen singing and dancing into the late hours of the night. Those who preferred to ignore the arithmetic of coalition politics in a parliamentary democracy claimed that they were being robbed. It took the wise counsel of the president to set matters straight.
Those who argue that we are having elections too often, and would prefer a presidential system, which provides for a fixed four-year term, forget that one of the advantages of a parliamentary system of government is the electorate's ability to recall a government that has lost the support of the majority of the public. That is what happened in Israel this time. The Olmert government that had failed so miserably in the Second Lebanon War, and again in the incomplete Gaza operation, is being replaced. Just imagine if we were forced, under a presidential system, to endure this government for an entire four-year term, even though it had long ago lost the public's confidence.
In theory, our present system can probably stand some improvement - every system can theoretically be improved and also made worse, who among us is so wise as to make changes whose results will necessarily be better rather than worse? Some years ago, four "wise men" assumed that they had this wisdom, and foisted on us the Direct Election of the Prime Minister Law, which had to be revoked because it very quickly only made matters worse. The law of unintended consequences was at work and may well be at work again in case any future attempts are made to doctor the system.
There may be room for some "fine tuning" of the system that might bring about marginal improvements and most likely won't cause any major damage. In an attempt to draw voters away from the smaller parties to the larger parties, legislation that would oblige the president to give the party with the largest number of votes the first chance to form a coalition, might bring about a small improvement. But under no circumstances should that be the only choice left to the president. That this would be a no-win situation was proven by the latest election results.
Primary election systems can stand some improvement. A step already taken by Likud, which entitles only those who have been members for at least 18 months to vote in the primaries, is a step in the right direction. It avoids the last-minute rush of voters who are not adherents of the party but who have been "mobilized" for the primary election, as happened in Kadima and Labor this year.
The fact that Yisrael Beiteinu has its Knesset candidate list dictated by one man is a blemish on Israel's democracy, but hopefully the intelligence of the Israeli voter will in time put an end to this unethical phenomenon.
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