Search our Archives:
» Opinion & Society
By Prof. Paul Eidelberg
Israel’s governing institutions should be designed in such as way as to strengthen the representational bond between citizens and those who are supposed to represent their current opinions and interests as well as their abiding beliefs and values.
Representation is often defined as having one’s views reflected in the legislative decision-making process. Representation may also be defined as having one’s views reflected in actually enacted policies of government. The first raises the question: How well does the mode of election enable the national electorate to impress its opinions on the legislature? The second raises the question: How well does the actually executed policies of the government represent the opinions of the national electorate?
Israel’s single countrywide elections with fixed party lists cannot but insulate Knesset Members from the voters between elections.
Hence the “representational bond” between MKs and voters is weak. This is especially true of cabinet ministers, since they occupy safe seats on their party’s list. It follows that Israel’s method of electing members of the Knesset does not enable the electorate to impress its opinions effectively on the legislative process nor on the actually executed policies of the government. This is hardly
consistent with representative democracy, and it conduces to the self-aggrandizement of elected officials.
If Israel had some form of multi-district or regional elections, whereby the people could vote for individual candidates rather than for a party slate, the representational bond between MKs and constituents would be relatively strong. The electorate would thus be more capable of impressing its opinions on the Knesset and on actually enacted government policies. The resulting constraints on elected officials would counter political egoism and diminish abuses of public trust.
Moreover, since more than 50 percent of Israel’s Jewish population are traditional Jews while another 25 percent are orthodox, it follows that making the country more democratic by means of district elections—a reform consistent with Deuteronomy 1:13—would also make it more Jewish! Furthermore, district elections would diminish the power of party leaders over their colleagues in the
Knesset, so that the latter would be able to exercise more independent judgment vis-a`-vis government polices. The Knesset would cease to be a cipher. A stronger Knesset would also restrain the Supreme Court, which has become a super-legislature because of the Knesset’s impotence. Multi-district elections would therefore promote a system of checks and balances yet to be seen in Israel.
Unfortunately, many Israelis, including academics, believe that such is the smallness of this country, both in population and geographical area, that multidistrict elections are inappropriate. The fact is that single-member districts with plurality rule (SMDP) is employed in no less than 22 countries, including Canada, the United States, and Great Britain. Of these 22 countries, the following have smaller populations than Israel: Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Dominica, Gambia, Grenada, Jamaica ,Micronesia, New Zealand, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Samoa, Trinidad & Tobago, and Zambia. I have italicized those countries whose geographical area is smaller than Israel.
Of course, single-member districts with plurality rule is not the last word. Some 54 countries employ other methods of representing constituents. Districts may have more than one representative, as in Australia; they may have run-off elections to obtain a majority candidate, as in France; and they may even combine SMDP for part of the legislature and proportional representation for the remainder, as in Germany and Denmark.
Of the 54 countries just alluded to, the following have smaller populations than Israel: Cape Verdi, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, Honduras, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, and Uruguay. Again, the geographical area of the countries here italicized is smaller than Israel.
We see, therefore, that 28 countries have smaller populations than Israel, and of these, 18 are smaller in area. This should dispose of objections to multidistrict elections on the basis of a country’s population or size. By the way, many of these countries are as heterogeneous as Israel.
Of the many regional electoral systems which Israel might adopt for its betterment, two may be mentioned here: the Preferential Vote system used in Australia and Ireland, and Personalized PR used in Germany and Denmark, which systems avoid gerrymandering. (Further details will be found in my book Jewish Statesmanship.) Still, it should be borne in mind that political institutions, however well-designed, do not guarantee wisdom and virtue. Nevertheless, how they are designed will either minimize or maximize the probability of obtaining wisdom and virtue in the councils of government.
from the August 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine