It's often said there is no one who can't be replaced. It's not exactly true: It would be more correct to say there is no one who can.
Each person is an individual, unique in his own right, and every person who leaves this world leaves behind a hole of some description.
If this is true with regard to daily life, it is all the more true with regard to political life. At the top of the pyramid stand people who are not only unique in their personal qualities, but also whose personalities and characters have long-term effects.
They say Ataturk once said if he lived long enough, he would make Turkey into a democracy in years, but it would take 100 years if he died too soon. He died a short time later, and Turkey is still struggling to define itself.
The fate of the Western world could have been completely different if Emperor Theodosius hadn't died in 395 CE, a short time after seizing power in the Empire. His death left behind an empire divided between two young, weak sons. The rest, as they say, is history.
One of the biggest challenges facing a political system is that of continuity – how the establishment can continue to function without
crises when the leader dies.
Think about the classic British phrase, "The king is dead, long live the king!" This phrase expresses the fear of a power vacuum, the desire to create a fiction according to which the institution of monarchy is eternal, changing only its outward appearance. Now we've got one king, now this one. They are all part of the same continuum.
The problem with systems of authority is that the leaders have too much power. Too much relies on their whims, their strengths and their weaknesses. One needs a lot of luck in order to find a successor that won't shock the establishment to the core.
The democratic method of government is one of the most sophisticated attempts to solve the problem of change of command. It is based on the assumption that limiting power is the key to political stability.
What appears as a weakness – that no strongman can seize power for too long – is actually the source of a functioning democracy. It is the system that works – political parties, parliament, the government.
The figure at the helm is a first amongst equals. If he disappears, even suddenly, it has a limited effect on the system.
This is not the case in Israel today. The great weakness of the system is that too much power is concentrated in the hands of the prime minister, sending signs of autocracy (for instance, making his son a secret advisor.)
In this situation, the physical wellbeing of the prime minister has become a fateful issue for assuring stability, just like in an autocracy. For if Sharon were unable to function, there would be a Byzantine-like struggle for power bamong several people whose ability to lead is questionable and who certainly do not enjoy the faith of the public. The only thing binding them together is subservience to the leader.
What is their worldview? Does it combine with that of the greater public? At the moment; the only view that matters is that of the prime minister. But after him?
When a person decides to get married, humorists have given this sarcastic advice to young brides: Ask yourself if you are prepared to give this guy your children every second weekend.
When voting this March 28, ask yourselves if you would be willing to hand power over to Shaul Mofaz, Ehud Olmert, Haim Ramon, Avi Dichter and Dalia Itzik.
Whoever succeeds Sharon, will he allow others to drive the boat built on Sharon's characteristics? You're not sure? The time to think about it is now.