The Good and the Bad of the System

The current system, with all of its faults, has never led us to a constitutional crisis. It should be fixed, but we shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater.

The election results point to the urgent need to fix defects in the political system, but to do so carefully. Overly radical suggestions, such as a switch to a presidential system, could never overcome the political obstacles, and the result of such a change might have disastrous results, as was seen with the direct election of the prime minister. But there are changes in a few areas which could aid the establishment of more stable governments, and which could gain the support of the majority of the Knesset.

Appointing a prime minister: The current uncertainty, in which Kadima has the most seats but Likud is capable of forming a coalition with a majority in the Knesset, should be eliminated. The rule should be that the president drafts the head of the largest faction to form a government. If that causes kindred parties on the right or left to unite, so much the better.

Minimum vote thresholds: Do not raise the percentage needed for entry into the Knesset. The current two percent actually worked well this time. Raising it to five percent to weaken the existing small parties will result in just the opposite. The small religious parties would be presented in parliament as a united bloc, as would the three Arab parties. It makes no sense as it could increase the power of these two public sectors.

New parties: This time, too, new parties were on the ballot. Some advocated on behalf of specific people or ideas, and some were just plain strange. But none of them crossed the percentage threshold, which is good. It's not possible or desirable to bar new parties from entering, but it should be made difficult. The solution is that new parties should have to gather large numbers of signatures (20,000 is one suggestion) providing details which can be verified. Someone who is incapable of collecting so many signatures also has no chance of getting beyond the vote threshold and should not be given a public forum just to satisfy his ego.

Primaries: The parties should decide whether to hold primaries or not, but the current system creates serious distortions which result from the fact that instead of party members, there are people who are simply registered with the party, the so-called mitpakdim, with no actual loyalty to the party. The parties have been obliterated as a significant force. Some of the registered people have been recruited by candidates and there have been cases where the number of registered names for a party in a certain area was greater than the number of votes which the party got in the elections.

The law should require that an individual be a party member for 18 or 24 months before the date of the primary election to be entitled to vote in the primary. That would prevent the mitpakdim phenomenon, and could revitalize active party membership and weaken "vote contractors".

Parties should consider moving from primaries, which are customary only in the United States, to a mixed system in which some of the candidates would be chosen at a party convention, some by the party central committee, some by women's organizations and youth movements, and some by the party leadership.

Local voting: The suggested move to voting by region is a mirage, which will turn the Knesset vote into something similar to the municipal elections, with all of their local interests and quid pro quo deals. The change of focus to local elections will weaken the parties even more, and could cause a situation in which mayors run as "independent" candidates for the Knesset, not a pretty scenario if we consider the profile of some of them.

There is room for partial reform, which taken together, could eliminate some of the current disruptions and even elevate the level of elected members of the Knesset. The current system, with all of its faults, has never led us to a constitutional crisis. It should be fixed, but we shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater.