Opinion |

Israel Needs to Hold Runoff Elections, as France Does

A runoff election in Israel would reduce the scope for backroom deals and force the heads of the two biggest parties to win over the entire electorate.

Emilie Moatti
Emilie Moatti
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In this photo combination, French centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron waves before he addresses his supporters at his election day headquarters in Paris, April 23, 2017, left, and far-right candidate for the presidential election Marine Le Pen waves at supporters after she delivers a speech during a meeting in Bordeaux, southwestern France, April 2, 2017.
Emmanuel Macron, left, addressing supporters in Paris on April 23, 2017, and Marine Le Pen waving at supporters in Bordeaux, April 2.Credit: Christophe Ena/Bob Edme/AP
Emilie Moatti
Emilie Moatti

France awoke to a new reality on Monday, the day after the first round of the presidential election, in which the main parties disintegrated, their places taken by the fringes. Even without Emmanuel Macron on the center-left, the distribution of votes between the right and the left would not have altered the picture greatly. Moreover, it would not have obscured the most unfortunate fact of all: that the extreme right-wing candidate who, like her father, is a persona non grata in Israel — racist and anti-Semitic, blacklisted by even the most liberal Jewish organizations in France — reached the second round, just a few percentage points behind Macron.

In France, however, there is indeed a second round, which is supposed to determine who wins and who loses. It was impossible not to envy the way in which the losers immediately took responsibility for their failures and endorsed Macron — without blaming the public, without going to the high court and without wasting citizens’ time. That’s what François Fillon did, followed immediately by the candidate of the decimated Socialist Party, Benot Hamon. The only exception was the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who gave a bad name to “radicals from both sides” by refusing to support Macron in order to block Le Pen. It’s all the same to Mélenchon — a government of the bourgeoisie, as he calls all the parties to his right (that is, all of them), and the Fifth Republic’s fall into the abyss that Le Pen is digging for it.

Unfortunately, Israel’s electoral system does not allow for a runoff vote. As a result, the composition of the government reflects the will of the elected more than it does the will of the electorate. A second round allows for the possibility that the public will come to its senses after casting a protest vote or voting for a niche party, and that the various camps can reorganize themselves. Every French political commentator has called on the parties of the national democratic camp to unite, as tradition dictates, against the narrow ultranationalist camp that threatens it. The differences between them turn out to be negligible in light of the risk to the fundamental character of France.

Since no party in Israel wins an absolute majority, making it impossible to forecast who will form the coalition, not to mention how and with whom, a runoff election would increase the voters’ influence over these important issues. A second round could prevent a repeat of the situation created after the 2009 election. Tzipi Livni received the largest number of votes — in other words, the people chose her — but in the end Benjamin Netanyahu, who put together a coalition before Election Day, was the one who formed and led the government in the end.

I propose — clearly, there are weaknesses to this option, which would also require additional changes to the current system — the introduction of a runoff election between the heads of the two parties with the most votes, for the right to form the government. The parties that don’t reach the second round would maintain their relative power, as determined by the vote.

Thus, governance will be enhanced, because voters will not only determine the composition of the Knesset but also guide the direction of the government. It will reduce the scope available for backroom deals and extortion by party leaders, forcing the runoff candidates to win over the entire electorate, not only their natural constituents.

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