Israel’s Hope: A political-reform NGO

As we discussed briefly in early May, the agreement in Israel by which the Kadima Party would back the Netanyahu-led coalition government included a provision to pursue electoral and government reform. From what I have heard, it is serious, though the precise parameters are not yet clear.

There is an organization called Israel’s Hope that is pushing for reforms. From their statement of principles:

Israel can no longer be led by a government where indecision, extortion, and ineffectiveness reign. Our country is at a crossroads. It can maintain its democratic character and remain a shared homeland for Jewish people around the world, or it can lose its ability to respond to the existential issues it faces. We must translate the broad consensus into effective action. Israel’s Hope will help develop the proper governmental foundations to handle the unique social, economic and security-related challenges this country faces.

Their stated proposals include:

Raising the legal threshold for winning Knesset seats to 3%.

A two-tier system with 2-5 seats in each district in a regional tier and half the seats by national lists (compensatory, I assume).

The head of the largest party would become Prime Minister automatically as long as the party won at least a third of the seats.

A runoff election for PM if no list reaches the one-third threshold, between the top two party leaders.

It would take a vote of 60%+1 members of Knesset to remove a PM, and if such a vote passed, the Knesset itself would be dissolved.

A two-term limit on the PM.

Quite a mixed bag, including some fairly modest reforms (the threshold and districting within a presumably still fully PR system) and some fairly radical (e.g. the changes to the executive-legislative structure).

Again, it is not clear to me that these ideas will be the basis of the government’s eventual proposal, but the NGO has some big names (and I would guess significant funding) behind it.

12 thoughts on “Israel’s Hope: A political-reform NGO

  1. Super-reinforced disproportional representation. You don’t get extra seats for being the plurality party, just a close to irremovable prime ministership. Surely it would be better to move to semi-presidentialism and cut through the rather complex executive proposals? Or simply have the Knesset elect a prime minister or face automatic dissolution?

  2. So if the Extreme Party With No Allies gains 41% of the vote, their leader becomes the Prime Minister, even if an opposing group of parties has more votes overall. And despite said PM having no conceivable parliamentary (“knessetary”?) majority, and thus no ability to pass laws, there’s no way to remove said PM due to the 60% requirement.

    Certainly an unlikely scenario, especially in Israel, but it certainly sounds awkward.

  3. Actually the EPWNA could take unrestricted control of the executive with 33.4%. And have no ability to pass legislation or even fund the operations of the government by passing a budget.

    The electoral incentives for an EPWNA prime minister would be completely different from the prime minister in a parliamentary system. Assuming a united opposition succeeds in tossing them out with a supermajority they still do not have to accommodate the opposition or the electorate at all, just get more than 1/3 of the votes in the general election after the Knesset is dissolved. An EPWNA prime minister’s best electoral strategy would be to emulate Monty Python and wave their private parts at the opposition.

  4. On the other hand, I do like the run-off idea. Israel’s last try at direct election failed, in part due to vote splitting. Voters, having used their direct ballot to choose their desired PM, felt free to use their Knesset ballot as a secondary, orthogonal vote for a smaller party.

    With a single ballot, voters who care about the PM are incentivized to vote for one of the larger parties, to ensure their candidate makes it into the top two.

  5. Modified two-round system:

    1st round: have voters vote for as many candidates as they want

    2nd round: the top n candidates (n being the square root of the total number of candidates) qualify and face off, the candidate with the most votes wins!

  6. Indeed a mixed bag – and it seems Israelis want to continue being the world’s governmental-system guinea pig with more presidential modifications to a parliamentary system.

    What Israel desperately needs are some tested reforms. For example:
    -A district-PR system (with an average district size of no more than 10 seats)
    -An absolutely constructive no-confidence vote
    -A limit on cabinet size (15 would be nice, but even 20 would make a difference on our bloated 30+ cabinets that require modifications to Knesset seating)

  7. JD, we are trying. The things you list were in my recommendations in 2010 (which are being published in Hebrew now), and the team I was working with back in Israel is keeping up the good fight. But politicians can be stubborn–everywhere, but it seems especially in Israel!

  8. I suspect that the big problem of Israeli politics is too much dimensions:

    – seculars vs. orthodoxes
    – sephardites vs. askhenazis
    – arabs vs. jews
    – “doves” vs. “hawks” (some overlap with the above)
    – left vs. right (big overlap with the above, but I suppose not absolute)

  9. I think that ultimately we have a guarantee against the supermajority-censure provision in the Basic Law itself; I think that even if they pass it, it will only be a matter of time before a determined ‘59%-opposition’ changes the Basic Law back, to be able to vote some gov’t out of power!

  10. This is isn’t really an electoral reform. It is more of a change of a parliamentary system to a semi-presidential system without the two offices being separate. When you take it that way, it’s much more of a straightforward argument. That being said I think it’s unlikely to gain support as most people believe that the pre…I mean PM should be responsible to parliament.

    • Part of their proposal is electoral reform, much of it is not, indeed. But it is NOT a proposal for a semi-presidential system. With semi-presidentialism, by generally accepted definition starting with Duverger (1980), there must be a popularly elected head of state and a premier who depends on the confidence of the parliamentary majority.

      There is actually considerable interest in Israel in eliminating parliamentary-majority confidence, which is troubling.

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