17 February 2012

Bob from Brockley on Israeli democracy and other things

Just because Bob from Brockley is on the blogroll doesn't mean that you necessarily get to read him. So, there's this from his site. His topic is, inter alia, an exploration of the problems that Israel's version of parliamentary democracy throws up.

Although it's not our place, as non-Israelis, to pass judgements on the electoral system that Israel's founders chose, as a Jew, I'm going to anyway. It's like responding to a question with a question, at least, it is if you're Ashkenazi. So why wouldn't I question Israel's voting system?

It is, of course, all Ben Gurion's fault. Just like the comments he never made about clearing the area set aside for Jews, in the Peel partition proposal, of Arabs (go google it and make sure you include Dina Porat of TAU in your google, if you don't already know - and yes, I can talk to you like that, because I'm among friends, aren't I?), we can blame him for Israel's crazy proportional representation system. In Bob's article, he quotes from political scientist Daniel J. Elazar as follows: "Any group that wins a touch more than a bare 1 percent of the popular vote in a Knesset election gains a seat in the Knesset and, under present conditions, a chance to enter the governing coalition and indeed the government itself under advantageous conditions. The end result of all this, however, is to frustrate both necessary dimensions of good government. The government that results must rest upon so delicately balanced a coalition that it cannot muster the energy necessary to govern effectively, while the electoral system is so party-based that the people feel unrepresented most of the time."

As I commented on the Engage site, when the (un)lovely Ran Greenstein (Associate Prof of Sociology at the Uni of Johannesburg and ex-Israeli - not that that stops him doing an "asaJew" number on us) was arguing in favour of BDS - in this case concerning the water project between Ben Gurion Uni, Al Quds Uni and the Jordanians - the Israeli electoral system throws up coalition governments that no-one voted for and no-one likes, but every Israeli has to live with. I mean, as Bob notes, did those of you not living in Israel know that there are 14 (that's FOURTEEN) political parties represented in the Knesset, as we speak? And there are only 144 seats available in that Parliament. No wonder nothing meaningful ever happens. For goodness sake, the UK Parliament has, at present, 635 MPs representing (please allow me to exclude Northern Ireland, if only because that hurts my head at this time of night) some 5 political parties and 70 million people. Which system makes more sense? Even allowing that the UK should have a better system.

There's lots of other goodies in Bob's article. I hope you read this far and the whole article, even though the link is at the beginning of the article.

By Brian Goldfarb.

Update: There are several technicalities to correct in that post:

  • First of all, the original post on Bob's place is written by TNC (The New Centrist).
  • Then, as indeed it was commented, there are 120 seats in the Knesset and not 144.
  • And finally, the threshold for getting a party into Knesset is already 2% now, which doesn't seem to help, so probably a rise is indicated, with appropriate protection for minorities built-in.


Rebecca Lesses said...

I believe that there are 120 seats in the Knesset, not 144, so the situation is worse than you think.

Shira said...

first of all its 120 seats
now, proportional representation is a way fairer system of representative politics and it's effectiveness could be improved using tools from within the existing system such as changing the terms of coalition formation. now I, at least like the system so asserting that "no one does" is already false.
when system change is discussed in Israel the argument usually comes from pro-presidency supporters and that is a huge problem because the proper way for a president to rule would be the American way, in which the president has less power but what they want is MORE power for the head of state so it would be more like a Venezuelan style system (I DON'T WANT THAT).
and finally since you brought it up the UK has a thing or two to learn about elections from Germany where the vote of the majority also counts in seats in the parliament alongside electing representatives according to regions. 

Shaun Downey (Jams O Donnell) said...

Brian it's six parties not including NI- Tory, Lab, Lib, Green, Plaid Cymru and SNP. The FPTP system is blatantly unfair to any party bar the Tories and Labour. If England had elected on Israeli lines then UKip would have gained 17 seats, BNP 11, the Greens 3 and possibly the English Democrats 1... not that I have any love at all for Ukip, BNP or the English Democrats at all.

Brian Goldfarb said...

Alright already, so I got the number of seats wrong. And does it really matter if it's 5 or 6 parties in the UK Parliament? (Honestly, trying to talk to Jews is impossible: every question is answered with another question. Is that reasonable?) 

Actually, as Rebecca Lesses notes, that it's 120 seats makes matters worse. And I did note that the UK system is far from being a reasonable system. Just that, in comparison with the "perfect" PR of Israel, it, at the very least, looks a lot more sensible - and stable.

However, should anyone ask, something like the German system of a 5% threshold works better, in that tends to keep out the real crazies and it also tends to stop existing political parties splitting into ever smaller bits. The major problem with %/party list systems is that power remains with the centre: they determine the order on the list, and thus who is likely to be elected. 

The best system I've come across (despite its faults) is the system devised by the late Roy Jenkins at the request of Tony Blair (peh, peh, peh). Jenkins wanted a system whereby most MPs would be elected in the old-fashioned way, and thus represent a constituency and its voters. BUT, the country would be organised into regions, so that some seats would be allocated, as well, through a system of rewarding smaller parties that, nevertheless, got a pre-determined % of the vote without getting MPs to that proportion. 

The advantage of this system is that rewards parties that get, let's say, 10%+ of the vote but no seats. So they get a reward. 

It's not enough to destabilise the parliament, and it rewards the small parties and their faithful voters.

We have to learn to live with some of these being undesirables, such as fascists and racists. But everyone else can outvote them and probably don't need to kowtow to them.

Sorry for the academic lecture, but old habits die hard.

Thenewcentrist said...

Thanks for the link, comments and corrections. Snoopy pointed out that the threshold has increased to 2% in the comments on my original post. I think 5% is probably too low but given the opposition to even minor changes I thought it would be a good place to start a conversation.