No More Primaries

The stink of 'deals' has spread far and wide and illustrates the cynicism and aggressive nature of the process in all the parties.

Only a few members of the new Knesset were elected to their party’s slate by means of a primary, but the ills of the system have hurt all the parties that adhere to it. In Likud, an extreme right-wing roster was chosen and worthy politicians cast aside. Habayit Hayehudi and Labor are now being questioned about claims of vote-buying. The stink of “deals” has spread far and wide and illustrates the cynicism and aggressive nature of the process in all the parties.

The political process should take leave of this system, the purpose of which is to strengthen internal democracy but has in fact damaged the selection of candidates and weakened the parties. The political success of the candidates is measured by their ability to enroll new party members, who in many cases do not identify at all with the party they joined and did not vote for it in the national election. That is what happened in the settlements, where more people joined Likud than voted for it, and in Arab communities where people became members of Labor and Kadima. The nexus of power in the party moved from the leadership to vote contractors, organizers of transportation, heads of clans and donors who funded the candidates’ primary campaigns.

The primary was instituted as a substitute for the formulation of the list by a handful of senior pols in a back room somewhere. But the expansion of the electoral body did not encourage wider political participation, and instead fostered mainly the proliferation of intrigues and quarrels. Internal elections have more than once ended in criminal probes. This time it turns out that Habayit Hayehudi chairman MK Naftali Bennett hired private investigators to follow his political rival Nissan Slomiansky to try to discover his connections to vote contractors.

In the end, primaries did not justify the expectations people had of it. But the best solution is not a dictatorship by a single leader, like MKs Avigdor Lieberman, Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, or Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who alone choose the candidates for their parties. A middle way must be sought that will strengthen the parties and their public support base. We should learn from the experience of parliamentary regimes in Europe, with sound democratic traditions, and suit their methods to the political conditions in Israel.