Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Frustrating System

Earlier today, the Jerusalem Post reported that
If Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud proves the polls right and emerges as the largest faction, heading a right-wing bloc with a Knesset majority, [President Shimon] Peres, who will consult with the various party leaders once the official results are in, will be spared much deliberation and the man who lost power a decade ago will be given the presidential nod.

Alternatively, if Tzipi Livni's Kadima maintains its final-days momentum, eases ahead of the Likud and, however improbably, Livni wins the prime ministerial recommendation of party leaders representing a Knesset majority, she will be given the president's authority to try to succeed where she failed just three months ago in building a governing coalition.

Given the most recent exit polling, it appears that Livni's party has won, as Israeli television stations are predicting between 29 and 30 seats for Kadima and either 27 or 28 for Likud. But it's not clear if she has the parliamentary support necessary to become Prime Minister, and Peres will now be responsible for determining who should be given the first chance to form a coalition. If Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party backs Likud, then it appears that Netanyahu would get the first opportunity to form a coalition government, even though Livni's party received more votes. The bickering between Kadima and Likud has already begun.

While the unclear election results will cause headaches in the near-term, they are also a manifestation of Israel's troubled political system. As Shmuel Rosner presciently noted six days ago, Israel's problem is that there are no longer any "big" parties, only four or five mid-size ones. This has led to a now-fractured government, and will, most likely, reward control of the government to the second-place finisher.

1 comment:

  1. On the other hand, our American system is often nearly divided between two parties as with Bush/Gore (2000) and Coleman/Franken (2008) -- and many others nearly as close in between these two examples. That kind of polarization often carries forward into the period of governance. In Israel, and in other parliamentary systems, the forming of a coalition requires that would-be rivals work together on some terms, even if not ideal ones. Further, even if one can prefer the decisiveness and "neatness" of two or three main parties, a plethora of parties speaks well to a thriving democracy wherein blocs of citizens need not compromise on their choice and can find someone closer to them ideologically or sociologically. Finally, although frequent elections are often portrayed as unstable political systems, the flexibility of a "No confidence" motion bringing down a government and requiring snap elections also speaks well of the responsiveness that the government offers to its citizens.

    Israel's greatest electoral flaw, to my taste, is the lack of parliament members elected from specific districts. In this manner, elected officials are beholden to the party chiefs who put them on a "list" and not to the citizenry that ultimately votes for them. This both encourages toadying and also means that a gadfly can't comfortably remain within a party. An original thinker is incentivized to form a (small) party of his or her own....which brings us back to the problem of many small and smaller parties.