Pic: Yaki Assaig

6 comments on election method

Some Israelis want presidential regime. Well, they better think again

Every few years, it happens again. We become totally disgusted and feel like changing everything. We want to destroy, dismember, reconstruct, and save our homeland from itself. Not that we have enough patience to take it seriously, God forbid.


We wish for some magical solution that would come from above, a single dramatic decision that would turn us into New Zealand - a constitution-free country, dominated by Elizabeth Queen of Britain and some eight million sheep.


I mean, this is much more fun than engaging in an agonizing and expensive 10-year process in which we will alter the education system, or reexamine the state-religion relations, or study the state budget until facts and figures drive us mad. Forget it. Give us a president! He will take care of everything. This may not be such a bad idea, but if we decided to make some changes, let us examine some of the main claims first.


1. Presidential elections will bring good people into politics (and we will have a wonderful president)

Hmm. The current elections method gave Israel, among others, prime ministers such as David Ben Gurion, Menahem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Ariel Sharon. They all had their problems, but we had a rare succession of intelligent, caring, and worthy state leaders.


As always, the media made their lives hell, but today it is clear that they were our generation of giants. The members of the younger group - Bibi, Barak, and Olmert - have their problems, that is true, but no one doubts this too is a bunch of brilliant people with good intentions.


The Israeli democratic system with its faults has somehow managed to place the most talented person around at the top with surprising consistency. The American presidential method indeed produced a leader such as Clinton, but also made president of a compulsive liar such a Nixon, a failing leftist such as Carter, and the current genius.


2. We need to bolster the prime minister's standing. The current political method, with its multitude of parties, does not leave him enough powers

This paragraph is brought to you by Avigdor ("we must have a strong president, and guess who is the best man for the job") Lieberman. Well, hmm again. Take our last two prime ministers for example.


Sharon decided on the disengagement against the stands of everyone and their party and executed it almost single-handedly. At the same time, he supported his Finance Minister Netanyahu, who decided to shake the Israeli economy from the foundations up. The current prime minister, Ehud Olmert, decided to go to war without even asking the Knesset.


In other words, over the past 18 months alone, Israeli prime ministers made dramatic, complicated, and disputed moves that most of the world leaders would not dare. They had legislative, social, political, and military problems along the way, but shortage of powers was never one of those problems.


An Israeli prime minister can really see through any move he believes in. It might take him time and wreck his nerves, but what does not?


3. Regional elections will diminish the Power of the parties' central committees

Are you sure? Regional elections - and I am not the first to say that - are heaven for vote contractors who work on a local basis anyway. Regional elections will make it easier for them to promote their candidates.


Those who worry that criminal elements might infiltrate politics need to remember that in our small country, districts will comprise less than 60,000 residents (of which 55 percent are eligible voters). Under these conditions, Jacob Alperon will sit in your Knesset and enjoy parliamentary immunity.


4. We cannot live in a state with a new government every other year

Okay, but is a long-lasting government really stable? In Germany, regional elections made Angela Merkel lead a particularly fragile coalition and a parliament that is split in half. In Italy, serial plastic-surgery patient Silvio Berlusconi won the elections and only his immunity saved him from a series of grave criminal charges.


In Britain, Tony Blair is about to resign under pressure from his own party. Even in America, if the polls are proven correct, they will have a republican administration and democratic congress in November, which is bound to paralyze some systems.


The World Bank and IDB last week published their "government affectivity index," giving Israel an 80.8 percent rate. It is not good enough, to be sure, but our rate is higher than Italy's, which does not have Hamas or Hizbullah to deal with.


5. Cabinet members will have to quit the Knesset

This is not a bad idea either, but then who will sit in the Knesset? After all, the idea behind this move is to improve the quality of our legislators. Still, if the good people should quit the Knesset to join the cabinet, who will replace them? That is right: Lesser people.


Okay, there is another, less appealing option: The cabinet should comprise professionals only. Thus, the justice minister is a lawyer, the defense minister is a general, the transportation minister is a truck driver, and the health minister suffers from chronic colds. This could be nice, but how will you convince Tzipi Livni to stay in politics?


6. The minimal Knesset quota should be higher - say four percent; no, make it six percent; you know what, eight percent is best

Great idea! Let's get rid of all those dwarfish parties that only stand in our way. The question remains - who will remain? The five large parties in the Knesset - Kadima, Likud, Labor, Israel Beytenu, and Shas - have more than eight percent of the vote as it is.


In other words, raising the minimal quota will never create a bi-partisan regime here. Instead, we will have five or six parties of the same size (including a united Arab party that will be formed as soon as the law is amended). Their representatives will sit in Knesset committees and bicker all day. Hey, is this not what we have today?


There is not a single small party in the current coalition. They are all in the opposition and hardly stand in our way to anything. Who will gain from this? The parties' central committees, of course. The stronger the parties, the more powerful their central committees become. I agree, getting rid of Zehava Galon will indeed be fun, but is it worth the trouble?


And a final surprising note

Having said all that, I believe we should change the election system - only this cannot be the entire solution. It can only be a part of it. A presidential regime can work, but only in countries that have a constitution that protects the civilians against reckless, corrupt, or plainly unskilled presidents.


If we want to give someone power, we must have checks and balances facing him. People who favor a presidential regime believe in their hearts that the elected president will be the one they believe in the most. To test this, imagine the opposite situation: Look at the person you tolerate the least in the Israeli politics, and ask yourself what powers would you give him.


פרסום ראשון: 10.23.06, 17:17
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