Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Labor Wants In

Even though Labor MKs have been boasting that they are not afraid to enter the opposition, they have been increasing the pressure on Livni to include them in the government. That, I believe, is how one should interpret statements by the Labor Party to the media, that the faction will not recommend Livni or Netanyahu to President Shimon Peres to form the next government. The comments of Dan Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, that
the Obama administration would find it politically risky to embrace a government that included Lieberman, who has voiced controversial views about Arabs (Ha'aretz),
also give Labor some added punch in the coalition-wrangling going on. Even though Israeli voters, especially on the right, are on the whole indifferent to these U.S. concerns, the senior figures in each party realize that strained relations with the White House are not in Israel's interest. They will be weighing the various domestic and international costs and benefits carefully.

However, it is unclear whether it is possible for these elections to yield a coalition that might appeal to the American administration - even if that were a priority for Israelis. A Kadima-Likud-Labor unity government (28+27+13 = 68 seats) would be a hard pill for Netanyahu to swallow, seeing as it would mean little change from the current line. Meanwhile, the pressure will be on Livni to explain her negotiations with Lieberman to Israeli voters from the left and, behind closed doors, to members of the Obama administration. Netanyahu knows, a fortiori, that a far-right coalition would spell trouble for American-Israeli relations.

In a comment earlier today, Nobody remarked about the need for electoral reform in Israel. There are two conflicting aims that disinterested voters pursue with reform proposals: 1) "true democracy", or 2) stability. The former is almost impossible to satisfy, as no electoral system is immune from challenges of injustice. With regard to the latter, there are certainly systems that make for more stable government. However, I would argue that Israeli society is more divided - ethnically, religiously, and socio-economically - than those countries that do not enjoy the curse of extreme political fragmentation. Lastly, as any student of electoral systems will tell you, there are no "disinterested" reforms in this sphere of politics. Since the proposed changes are always negotiated by political parties, they tend to favor those currently in power, or are at least designed to advance the interests of incumbents (occasionally there are miscalculations though). I am not sure the electoral system is the problem.

10 comments:

Nobody said...

There are two conflicting aims that disinterested voters pursue with reform proposals: 1) "true democracy", or 2) stability.

I would define the problem in terms of trade-offs between representation and functionality. Certainly more representative electoral systems tend to produce less functional governments.

However, I would argue that Israeli society is more divided - ethnically, religiously, and socio-economically - than those countries that do not enjoy the curse of extreme political fragmentation.

The question is what you do if Israel continues to fragment herself. You would opt for doing nothing and watching the political system following this trend and getting even more fragmented and dysfunctional? In some respects this fragmentation is a result of itself. Consider child subsidies for example now heavily lobbied for by the Shas and which can be supported by Arabs and the more deranged among social leftists. If reintroduced, these subsidies can restart demographic explosions in both the Haredi and Arab sectors and lead to more social and later political fragmentation in the future. No major party will gladly re-institute these subsidies on its own will but it can do it because of coalition building politics.

Since the proposed changes are always negotiated by political parties, they tend to favor those currently in power, or are at least designed to advance the interests of incumbents

If it comes to the major parties coming together and crafting a system that would reduce the share of smaller parties, then I don't think it's necessarily such a bad idea. In many ways this is what people want. The majority of people polled recently said they want a unity government, which means that the bulk of voters want to see centrist parties in charge free from the dictate of marginal parties that the current system turned into king makers.

Nobody said...

This morning I found this on Jpost

Amos said...

Nobody,

I'm against oligopolies in politics and economics. Furthermore, I think in this case, it's better not to add regulation to the system and to let the necessary mergers take place on their own. Raising the bar for Knesset representation is the equivalent of adding tariffs or quotas. Keeping the current system forces all parties to compete, increasing efficiency at the party level and innovation in the system overall.

Also, I think these elections were truly exceptional, and that people are panicking over a spike that will mellow to equilibrium. Both the left and the right were extremely divided, and some parties paid the price. There will be corrections in the electoral market soon.

I would not want to add unnecessary regulation simply in order to advance particular causes (such as preventing the reintroduction of child subsidies).

I don't think the current system is to blame. It would be possible, for example, to form a coalition that does not include any religious parties - but there is a price for this, which the front-runners are apparently not willing to pay. Sooner or later the need will be so pressing that those in a position to form a government will make it a priority to exclude Shas and UTJ.

Nobody said...

Your point is that the current system is not to blame for our particular problems or you believe that there is no special problems with such systems in general? My understanding of the matter is that under certain circumstances such systems are worse than others and we are now such a case. The balance that should be sought is between representation and effectiveness and in some situations one of the two has to be sacrificed. I don't think that what's happening to us is temporary, or to be more precise is short term. I think it's for years to come, a decade maybe

Amos said...

What exactly would you propose for a threshold? How high would you set it, and won't Shas and UTJ still enter the Knesset? I think what has to happen is consolidation of some of the parties, but they will do this according to their interests.

Time will tell whether it is "temporary." I don't think the electoral system is in a state of crisis; I think that the parties are. They have not yet fully clarified the positions and are still inhabiting the structures of previous eras.

Also, I'm not so worried about the small parties because many of them disappear after one election anyway. In the meantime, they challenge the bigger parties to improve their messages.

noam said...

It is very unlikely that Labor will enter the coalition. Not with the poor result the party got in the elections. The only one who wants in is Barak, and even he wouldn't dare say it in public. They know that if they go in to save Bibi, in the next elections Labor will do worse than Meretz did this time.

As for the debate about the political system, I believe that since the 80s Israel is suffering from a political crisis, that prevent the country from taking the necessary steps to secure its future (most of all, leaving the West Bank). That's exactly what happened in France in the 50s. They ended up changing their system, and only than left Algeria. Maybe it's not a bad idea for us as well.

Nobody said...

Hi Noam

What was the French reform about? They had a system similar to our current one?

noam said...

The French forth republic (1946-1958) had 24 governments (!). the system wasn't exactly like Israel's, but the essential problem was the same: a weak executive authority who couldn't deal with the major crisis of the era - the war in Algeria (the problem was with the settlers, as usual, only that the French occupation lasted for some 150 years before they evacuated the country).

De Gaulle demanded (and was granted) a change of the constitution before returning to power in 1958 and getting the French out of Algeria. this was the beginning of the Fifth Republic, which has a very strong executive authority in the form of a powerful president, elected directly for 7 years.

Zachary Goelman said...

On an even sadder note, AK stopped publishing From Beirut to the Beltway. Don't you guys ever up an quit on me.

Nobody said...

Amos said...
What exactly would you propose for a threshold? How high would you set it, and won't Shas and UTJ still enter the Knesset? I think what has to happen is consolidation of some of the parties, but they will do this according to their interests.


Everything from 5% to 10%. I assume that religious and Arab parties will have to marge. Meretz may have to join the Labor. I don't expect this to cure the system of its ills but even reducing the number of parties can make post election negotiations easier.

I would cautiously support the idea of the biggest party automatically winning to form the government, or nominate PM at least. District voting may be a good idea too. Everything that encourages voters to concentrate their votes in a few, better two, major parties.