The more things change, the more they remain the same. The fourth Israeli election in two years is likely to produce the same result seen in the previous three elections: no party garnering even one-third of the Knesset’s 120 seats, a mad scramble to piece a coalition together, parties shifting alliances so that the constructed government has very little resemblance to the voters’ expectations, and even parties which garnered a respectable share of the votes in one election may crumble in the next. The whole situation cries out for electoral reform.
Parties should be required to publish their platforms and collect the signatures of a specified number of registered voters (on the order of hundreds of thousands of signatures) before being allowed to stand for election. The effort and expense needed to get the party’s message out to the voters would be an incentive for small parties to coalesce along ideological lines and for the party members to stick together. Pre-election debates should be held and only parties which receive a specified level of support in polls of registered voters should be allowed to participate.
New Zealand, with a population comparable in size to Israel’s, has moved from a purely Proportional Representation system (all seats in Parliament apportioned by choosing among Party Lists as is done in Israel) to a mixed system in which some seats are filled via candidates competing for seats designated to represent specific districts. In New Zealand’s most recent election, 70 members of Parliament were chosen as representatives of districts and 50 were chosen from party lists. A single party obtained a 61-seat majority in the 120-seat Parliament, something that has never happened in Israel’s Knesset.
But, even if electoral reform did not eliminate the need for a coalition government to be formed, governments would be more stable if one party received a near majority of the votes. For instance, a party with 55 seats would probably be able to form a ruling coalition with only one other party. If some disagreement arose, the smaller party would be less likely to threaten to leave the coalition, necessitating early elections, because the near-majority party would be able to easily find a new partner. When the coalition must be cobbled together from essentially all the small parties willing to work together, any of those parties has the potential to bring the government down.
Toby F. Block, Atlanta