The past decade has shown that if a single individual or party is in power for too long, they become rotten and corrupt, and they corrupt government institutions. Even on the level of principle, a vibrant, functioning democracy is built on having key positions at the top change hands. Therefore, the proposal to limit any prime minister to a maximum of eight years in office is an excellent and essential one.
But limiting the prime minister’s time in office, however worthy the reasons for doing so, would constitute a change in the rules of the democratic game. Such changes must not be made from one day to the next. As a matter of principle, any significant change in the rules of the democratic game should come into force only during the Knesset following the next election, so that both voters and Knesset members can weigh their steps appropriately.
This also holds for limiting a prime minister’s time in office – the change must take effect only starting in the next Knesset. That means that in the current Knesset, any of its members – including Benjamin Netanyahu, who has a cumulative 15 years as prime minister behind him – must have a chance to form a new government if the current government falls.
The new legislation obviously has to consider the amount of time in office a prime minister has already served when determining future restrictions. Netanyahu’s years in power won’t be erased once the law goes into effect; they must be a barrier to his return to the Prime Minister’s Office. That won’t make the term limits law retroactive or personal. Rather, this is a law aimed at fixing a flaw in our system of government that was made patently clear by Netanyahu’s long years in office.
Nevertheless, the imposition of term limits on the prime minister must not undermine the fundamental right to vote and to be elected. The Knesset is the elective body of our parliamentary democracy, so no citizen should be barred from serving as a Knesset member.
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Consequently, the position that deserves support is the one advocated by the Yamina party, which has rejected a proposal by Gideon Sa’ar’s and Avigdor Lieberman’s parties to have the term limit law include a four-year cooling-off period during which a two-term prime minister would be barred even from serving in the Knesset.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.