Sunday 13 July 2008

Representation in Democracy (A New Electoral System Removes Major Existential Threats)

A New Electoral System Removes Major Existential Threats
An Address to Limmud London on 13th July 2008

1) Israel looks to be facing existential dangers today. Of course as long as it maintains a strong army and as long as its solid alliance with America endures it will continue to have adequate deterrents. The question of course is for how long? This is not a rhetorical question. America’s self interests and public opinion may sway and our neighbours’ military capabilities, regular or guerrilla, may improve. The only alternative therefore is settling the borders and normalising the relations with the Arab countries, and the sooner the better as the cost will mount.

2) In the short term Hezbollah, Hamas and the surrounding Arab countries are not immediate dangers. But the wave of Anti-Semitism which is poisoning opinions against Israel outside and the social and political disintegration inside the country are the real threat in the long run. No wonder we find such incongruous voices spelling this obvious observation: Ex–Knesset Speaker Avrom Burg, Nobel Laureate Prof. Oman and most recently Ahmedi-Nejad.

3) Central to these real threat is the break-down of Israel’s political structure that renders its three arms of the state dysfunctional. The people are exasperated and an irresponsible media is revelling in feeding their frustration. It sounds almost blasphemous but it needs to be said : the Israeli Media is unwittingly assuming a dual role of the Forth Arm and the Fifth Column in Israel. The most important controlling cure is reforming the electoral system which Israel has failed to do for 60 years.

4) The political structure is vital in shaping any country and gelling together its society. And at the heart of this structure is the electoral system which connects the sovereign people with their government. Unfortunately Israel chose by default the wrong electoral system for its specific requirements in 1948 and despite repeated attempts did not succeed to change it since .

5) Total Representation “TR” is an electoral system which can be adopted to suit many countries or adapted to improve existing systems. The purpose of this essay is to explain what TR is and how it works; and then to analyse why it is vital for Israel to adopt TR soon in the context of stemming the existential threats which Israel will be more and more exposed to in the future.

6) What is TR?

  1. TR Total Representation is a new electoral system based on the premise that every single vote cast in an election has to end up with some representation in parliament, whether directly or indirectly.
  2. It avoids the most serious defect of the Constituency First-Past-the-Post System familiar to us here in England, under which votes cast for the successful candidate are represented in parliament, while all the rest of the votes i.e. those cast for the unsuccessful candidates are left unrepresented, though they may make up most of the total vote in some constituencies.
  3. The Proportional Representation System “PR”, as practiced in Israel on the other hand, does allow representation to all votes cast and gives them equal weight, but it encourages small political parties and splinter groups, resulting in weak coalition governments where factional rather than national interests take over. Its greatest deficiency, however, is the lack of a direct link between the members of the electorate and their individual representatives in parliament; unlike the Single Member Constituency System it transfers this link to the political parties.
  4. ‘TR’ Total Representation offers a solution by combining the positive elements of both systems, i.e. the dominant element of representation in Proportional Representation and the direct link with the voter of the Constituency First-Past-the-Post System.
  5. According to TR parliaments would have two classes of MPs who would be equal in every way save for the manner by which they were elected. One class would be the accountable Constituency MPs (CMPs) who would be elected by a simple majority on a constituency first-past-the-post basis, exactly as they are elected today in the UK. The other class, Party MPs (PMPs) would be elected by pooling all the votes cast for the unsuccessful candidates in all the constituencies and dividing them proportionally amongst all the Parties which fielded candidates in the same constituencies.

7) The advantages of TR are:

  1. Government stability balanced with adequate representation. Stability is essential for governments to govern effectively and carry out long term planning. True representation is essential to translate the will of the people to supervise governments through parliament.
  2. Built-in Legitimate Sovereign Opposition to counter the tyranny of the majority and guarantee gradual change, thus rendering society open and not closed to necessary adjustments as they arise.;
  3. A voice for the losers. This devise declares the death of “Arithmetical Democracy” where the 51 per cent winner takes all.

8) Let us see now how TR can benefit Israel. Our tribal waves of immigration are not gelling and are not cohesive yet. The inhabitants of the borders and peripheries are abandoned. The gap between the haves and have-nots is widening. The Arab minorities are getting more radicalised by the day. The rich and the oligarchs are allied with the political establishments and the Media. The Seculars are in mortal conflict with the Religious. The Supreme Court has by default appropriated to itself legislative powers and Judges are asked to direct the Executive and even the military operations of the Army. Governments became unstable and their authority undermined. The Knesset, the voice of the people between elections is so weak and divided that it is no more taken seriously, in fact it is discredited.

9) TR is a systemic tool that can help alleviate if not solve some of these problems because the first thing it does is to strengthen the Knesset and give it the authority it needs to intervene effectively to solve these problems. As a direct result of TR this new authority will be derived from every citizen in every corner of the land.

10) Let us see how in practice it works on the ground: The introduction of TR will bring the Knesset nearer to the people through their locally chosen regional MKs. who will individually be held accountable. It strengthens its authority in the eyes of the public and makes it easier for it to back and sanction difficult decisions taken by a stable governments. It asserts the primacy of the Legislator in the eyes of the citizens over the recently overpowering Judiciary.

11) The cornerstone of TR is the single MK Constituency. In the case of Israel it is of paramount importance to draw during the process of election all the voters in that locality together and to push the candidates to assume central political positions away from extremism in order to attract all the voters. Multi member regions as advocated by some colleagues in the recent President’s Commission on Government would deepen the division of the local communities along immigrant, ethnical and religious lines. It replants the defects of the present PR system into the regions. It can bring about the Lebanonisation of Israel.

12) But the most important outcome of the introduction of TR Total Representation is to integrate and Israelise our minorities without infringing on their religious beliefs or ethnic aspirations. The process of canvassing under TR, especially but not exclusively, in mixed Jewish/Arab localities would help to interweave and enmesh them into Israel’s political and social institutions. It would prevent the emergence of an internal Hamas from amongst their extremists, which is a far more dangerous than external Hamas.

13) And in the same process TR can through its implementation bind together the “new Jewish tribes” of Israel into local rather than disparate immigrant communities thus hopefully slaying the ghosts of Ashkenazi / Mizrahi / Russian / Ethiopian etc. that the PR system galvanizes and reinforces.

14) And finally and most importantly TR stabilises the government, allows it to plan long term and gives it the authority to take painful decisions with regard to fixing the borders and normalising Israel’s relations with all its neighbours.

Aharon Nathan was a member of the President’s Commission on the Governance of Israel. He set up and headed the first Civil Administration in the Gaza Strip in 1956.

Aharon Nathan, 13th July 2008

Tuesday 8 July 2008

Representation in Democracy (Electoral Draft Law of 2nd April 2008)

The Electoral Draft Law in the Knesset

1. Following on from the President’s Commission’s Final Report, and after much deliberation and lobbying, on 2nd April 2008 four senior MKs from the three big parties in the Knesset tabled a Draft Law (“Draft”) which embodied the main principles of TR – with some modifications.

2. These four MKs were: Professor Menachem Ben-Sasson of Kadima, Chairman of the Law and Constitution Committee; Mr Ophir Pines Paz, an ex-minister and current Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee; Mr Eitan Cabel , another ex-minister and current Chairman of the Labour Party in the Knesset (both Labour); and Mr Gideon Saar, Chairman of the Likud Party in the Knesset. Together, these three parties have 60 out of the 120 members of the Knesset. Surprisingly the Electoral Law in Israel is not a Basic Law. However to secure the passage of changes in it, the votes of 61 MKs are needed although only a simple majority and not an absolute majority is necessary. So these three parties need the support of all their own members – by no means a foregone conclusion – and therefore they need the support of at least one other party. And of course it also needs to surmount the opposition of the partners of the ruling Coalition Government, currently mainly the Shas Party.

3. The most important improvement in the draft is the rejection of multi-member constituencies in favour of single-member ones. This is an improvement on the President’s Final Report and a leap forward for TR (Total Representation) Otherwise, the Draft Law follows the Final Report in offering a 60/60 mix of constituency CMKs and party PMKs. In this and a few other details it has somewhat deviated from the basic principles of TR. The following is a summary of these deviations. I will analyse them one by one, looking at the rationale behind them and at how to overcome them in order to confer the full benefits of TR on the new law.

Ratio of 60/60 Constituency/Party Membership of the Knesset
4. In this, the Draft follows the Report. On the face of it, it looks symmetrical and reasonable. The real motive behind this, however, is rather different – although of course it is not plainly expressed. Today, most of Israeli candidates and the order of their appearances in the Election Lists for the general election are determined by the leadership and/or by the central organs of each party. They are in fact appointed by them and not elected. And even where primaries are held by some parties to elect candidates these primaries are mostly manipulated and in fact corrupt and lead to the choosing of candidates who are beholden to the leadership and are unrepresentative of the supporters of those parties in the country at large. It is natural that MKs who have been selected in this way (and who are the same people that will have to vote the Draft law on its journey towards ratification) are afraid that most of them will lose their seats under a new election regime. In a matter of fact, their declared support for any change towards regional and therefore accountable seats in the Knesset is not derived from good will or sound judgement, but because of pressure from the public.
We know that turkeys do not vote for Christmas. So these people hope that the 60 regional CMK seats will be a sop to satisfy the public demand for regional reform, while giving enough space through the other 60 party seats for most of them to manoeuvre their way back to the exclusive club that the Knesset provides them with.

5. There is another compelling reason why the present MKs want to preserve at least 60 Party seats to safeguard their immediate future survival. The majority of the present MKs reside in Tel Aviv and its surrounding areas. Their natural fear is, of course, that regional candidates from outside this orbit will push them out and slim down their chances of being chosen, particularly if a 90/30 ratio is used. The current Draft Law feeds these fears because it stipulates that candidates need to be residents of their constituencies. But this condition is not necessary and may in fact cause many able potential candidates to shy away from putting their names forward and start disrupting their home life even before their hopeful, but not certain, election. And although some candidates – once elected – may choose to move to their new constituencies or to acquire secondary accommodation there to gain local popularity, this should not be a pre-election condition. Moreover, keeping this condition will psychologically create two types of MKs: one local complete with certified residency and the other national, which of course is not the intention behind the division of 60/60 or the 90/30. Dropping this onerous condition will help allay the fears of the current MKs – and help solve the problem of fixing the ratio between the two.

Counting the Votes
6. Although it is not completely clear from the Draft Law, the assumption is that votes for the candidates and their parties are counted only once, in the first instance to choose the CMKs. Once the CMKs are elected by the votes of the majorities in each constituency, all the remaining votes are aggregated and distributed amongst the parties for choosing their PMKs. Any idea, as some have suggested or the Draft may perhaps implied, of using the votes again in their entirety to choose the PMKs would be tantamount to counting the CMK votes twice. In the case of Israel, such double utilisation of votes could give a huge advantage to the Arab and Jewish Religious Haredi because of their concentration in some localities. It could turn out to be that these minority parties would be given two bites of the cherry-once to elect their CMKs and then using these votes again together with what remains to give them PMK seats. Once this idea is excluded, we are left with the simple TR method of sharing and dividing the same votes between the CMKs and the PMKs.

Order of Priority in Party Lists
7. Another pitfall that the Draft needs to rectify is the order of priority of party lists. The most efficient and fair method is that offered by TR. Before the general election, it is natural that each party wants to display its star candidates to attract votes through the canvassing process. Therefore, it needs to put their names at the top of its list to show the public who their prominent and eminent future MKs from amongst its candidates would be. However, once the results of the general election are declared for each constituency, and therefore each successful CMK is declared and named, the original list of each party should be re-shuffled and rearranged in accordance with the number of votes each candidate has scored. The rearrangement of priorities could be made by each party before allocating their share of PMKs. This would provide an incentive for the various candidates to fight for each vote during the election, as that could be crucial in their being prioritised as the chosen PMKs by their parties. However, this procedure desirable as evidently it is may be left for each party to decide for itself, although it might be equally advisable to embody it in the electoral law. Moreover this simple procedure dispenses with pre-election primaries.

8. Retaining, post-election, the order of the candidates on the pre-election List could create anomalies after the election. How?! Let us take an example. Three candidates – A, B and C – from three parties are competing in one constituency. A secured 48 per cent of the votes, B secured 47 per cent and C secured 5 per cent. A won a CMK seat. But if B is, say, numbered 55th in his Party’s List, he will not secure a PMK seat, while C who is, say, numbered 3rd in his Party’s List would probably secure a PMK seat. So the 47 percent candidate lost, and the 5 percent candidate won the right to sit in the next Knesset. A situation like this would reflect badly both on the chosen PMP and his/her party.

9. Another thing that could help the existing MKs to swallow the change to 90/30 is to increase the number of Knesset seats available. The Knesset’s present membership of 120 has remained static for 60 years despite a over 10 fold increase in population. With many MKs continuing in their positions for decades without being replaced, the membership has become stale, and this has contributed to the image of the Knesset as an ancient, exclusive club, closed to and remote from ordinary citizens. Increasing the membership to 160 would facilitate dividing them into a ratio of 120/40 or even 100/60, instead of the proposed 90/30. This move would also make the proposed law more palatable for the present MKs, as it would increase their chances to survive under the new regime. Linking this measure to the appeal of introducing the regional representation of TR would also make it more acceptable to a public that has recently grown dismissive and sceptical of anything connected with the Knesset.

To Secure the Party Leader
10. The order of priority of each party’s candidates list would be declared beforehand, putting the party leader at the top in a reserved slot to ensure his/her place in the Knesset, whatever happens. The reason for this is that in a First-Past-the-Post system, the opposition will throw all its weight behind its candidate in the constituency of the leader of its rival party, in order to defeat him/her and embarrass his/her party. The reserved top spot for the leader also helps avoid upsets and confusion in the aftermath of a general election if the leader fails to win his/her constituency seat which, though unlikely, is of course, possible. Some parties may likewise want to secure the places of their Secretary or Chairman, and their Election Operation Officer, as these two would need to devote their full time to serving the party during the election period and might not be able to attend adequately to canvassing in their respective constituencies. But again, this issue is the business of each party and may not necessarily need to be stipulated by the electoral law.

11. Once the Draft Law takes care of all the above points, the exact ratio of CMKs to PMKs becomes less crucial, and although a ratio of 90/30 is the optimum, a slightly higher proportion of PMKs might be more suitable for Israel’s population make up. However, a ratio of 60/60 will definitely gives the PMKs too much power, and will not serve the purpose of the desired electoral reform, as it will immediately drag the system back into a preponderance of the Proportional Representation element.

Blocking Threshold
12. What is left is the blocking threshold. The Draft suggests that each party has to gain at least 2 per cent of the total votes and to win at least one CMP seat before qualifying to enter the Knesset. These conditions are added to what is inherent in every electoral system. These are grossly unfair measures that affect the minorities as they deny representation to their small parties and groups. It amounts to blocking their way to obtaining support amongst the electorate and is tantamount to disenfranchising them. Such a blatant blocking mechanism increases resentment and nourishes extremism and conflict. And anyway even a 10 percent blocking threshold used in Turkey did not prevent the religious party from getting a majority in the end, and forming a government by entering the leading party and controlling it from within. Of course, having said all that, we should remember that every electoral system has an inherent blocking mechanism – and so has TR. Under a regime of 90/30, to gain one Knesset PMK seat, a party needs 1/30th of the total votes left for allocation to PMKs. This is four per cent of these votes and is even a much higher percentage of the total votes. The way TR is constructed, as explained in Part One, of this book is to obviate both the necessity of blocking thresholds post elections and the reasons for holding primaries before the general elections. And yet it is so simple to explain to the public and so simple to operate.

13. Whether the Draft Law will proceed and overcome all the stages of legislation to become the new electoral law is an open question – it cannot be taken for granted. But the genie is out of the bottle, and it is too big to be squeezed back in. Regional election is in the air and in the public domain. Any political party aspiring to lead in Israel will ignore its call at its peril. Some form of regional /constituency system will have to be introduced primarily to ensure direct accountability of individual MKs to their voters. This after all was the prime reason cited by the President’s Commission. There is no compelling reason why full TR should not be chosen as the model for this fundamental change in order to repair the fractured political structure of Israel and to strengthen the Knesset – it could ultimately help in turn to solve many of the social and security problems of the country.

Supplementary Measures and Regulations
14. The weakness of the political structure in Israel is not entirely due to Proportional Representation (PR). Holland is another country with pure PR, and yet its system functions properly, and has been functioning for centuries, without causing the kind of instability that Israel suffers from. The reason for this difference is that Israel’s population lacks the social cohesion and the long tradition of parliamentary democracy that underpins Dutch politics. The make-up of the Knesset reflects the national religious and cultural divisions of what Haim Ramon, the present Deputy Prime Minister, has described as Israel’s tribalism. And although TR can help enormously in bringing about cohesion and integration, it alone cannot bridge these wide social divisions overnight.

15. Therefore, to ensure stable government and efficient governance, the introduction of any new electoral system needs to be supplemented by structural changes and regulations relating to the internal working of the Knesset and the government. The most important of these changes centres on the cohesion of political factions in the Knesset, and the tenure of the Prime Minister and the manner of his/her appointment and dismissal. Only such supporting regulations can ensure that the Knesset completes its term and that the government will therefore last the full four years. These changes can be incorporated into the electoral law or instituted internally by the Knesset and the political parties. The following are few of these regulations: some are essential; others are optional.

Political Parties in the Knesset
16. Under TR, MKs are allocated seats in the Knesset as members of parties. It is logical therefore to register their allegiances to these parties in the new Knesset. As candidates in the General Election, most of them would anyway have declared their link or loyalty to one party or the other who sponsored them as its candidates in the regions. In general, these allegiances need not be 100 per cent binding on them as MKs. Not being delegates, but representatives of their voters, they should have the right to change their views and their votes in the Knesset according to changed circumstances and their conscience. However, for MKs whose party forms part of the government, the situation is different. Some measure is needed to avoid the slow disintegration of the government during the Knesset term, and to prevent changing party allegiances (in Israel called Kalanterism; in Britain is referred to as taking the Party Whip.)
So, I propose that every MK whose party forms part of the government is deemed to have declared allegiance to his party at the time of the vote of confidence in the new government of which that party forms part. Each MK has the choice at that stage to cast his/her vote in favour of forming that government or withhold it. Thereafter, except for free votes declared by their parties (e.g. on conscientious ground), MKs who vote against their government should be deemed to have resigned and would be replaced by the next in line on the party list or through a by-election. In Israel, this needs to be embodied in the parties’ respective constitutions, and together with other regulations specifically on financing parties, may need to be anchored in State Laws. The logic of this measure is obvious. As a Party/List MK (PMK), his/her position is derived from the Party which gave him a seat on its priority list. Therefore if he is voting against the party, it is logical that he should surrender back to the party his position by resigning. If he is an MK representing a Constituency (CMK), then naturally he should resign because he represented himself to his constituents in the general elections as a member of that party and pledged his allegiance by voting for it in the government. By revoking his pledge given free when the government is formed he should resign and offer himself if he so wishes for re-election in a by-election as an independent candidate. This is both decent and logical, but it needs apply only to the party or parties of the coalition and not to all MKs.

Appointment of the Prime Minister
17. At present, the business of forming a government after a general election is too long and tortuous. The initial role of the President is superfluous. Once the results of the general election are announced, the party leader with the highest number of MKs should automatically try to form a government. He should immediately set out along broad lines his party’s or his coalition’s programme and proceed to ask for a vote of confirmation in the Knesset. If he fails to present his government within, say, three weeks, only then the President should intervene and start a procedure to ask another acceptable MK to form a government. Under the new TR system, with a ratio of 90/30, the emerging first party after the general election is bound to have the support of close to half the Knesset. If not, it is still unlikely to need the partnership of more than one other party to form a stable coalition

18. The confirmation of the Prime Minister designate and his government should require a majority of 61 MKs out of 120: an overall, that is an absolute - not a simple – majority (i.e. a 51 per cent of the Knesset, ignoring abstentions or absentees) His dismissal should be effected by the same majority – but only on a specific motion of no confidence in the government. Such a vote would then signal the start of a procedure for the dissolution of the Knesset and the declaration of a new general election. The constructive dismissal of the Prime Minster, as is sometimes suggested, is problematic and creates the very instability in the system that we want to avoid even though it is used in other countries. There are good reasons why, for example in the UK, it is the Prime Minister who chooses the time of dissolution of Parliament during its maximum five years term. That is one of the reasons why the UK premier is more powerful throughout his term – right up until the last day – than the US President, who in the last months of his predetermined time in office is often looked at as a lame duck.

19. The PM should appoint an MK to be Deputy PM. This appointment also needs a parliamentary vote of 61 MKs. The same majority is required for a replacement should the PM decide to replace him/her. Thus with this backing of parliamentary authority, the Deputy can accede without an upheaval to the position of the Prime Minister in case of his death or incapacitation.

20. A constructive vote of no confidence is not practical, and indeed is not necessary, under the above proposition, simply because those MKs who had supported the government will have to resign once they voted against their government. This avoids electing a government and immediately afterwards exposing it to the danger of collapsing. This routine practice has gradually become unacceptable to the public in Israel.

Appointment of Ministers
21. The PM should appoint all ministers and their deputies and should have the power to dismiss and replace them. MKs thus appointed need confirmation by 61 votes, en bloc initially when the government is voted in, or individually if appointed later on. Ministers appointed by the PM from outside the Knesset should be subject, in addition, to a Knesset Committee Hearing followed by confirmation by 61 MKs.

22. The PM is to be free by Law to appoint no more than half of the ministers and deputy ministers from outside the Knesset. They can be dismissed and replaced by him as above. This is designed to bring into the government professionals with experience. In some countries this professionalism is provided by the corps of the civil service. Unless the outside ministers are restricted to no more than half the government, we will be creating a presidential system through the back door.

23. Each ministry must have either the Minister or his/her Deputy as an MK. In cases where a Minister is appointed from outside the Knesset and has no deputy, an MK is appointed by the Minister, with the approval of the Prime Minister, as Knesset Liaison Secretary to represent and answer for the Ministry in the Knesset. This ensures the supremacy of parliament without compromising the authority of the PM or the Ministers.

24. All the above keeps a balance between the Knesset and the government and renders irrelevant the very unusual so called “Norwegian Law” advocated by some in Israel whereby an appointed minister has to resign his seat in parliament and is replaced by a deputy, who in turn has to vacate the position once the minister leaves the ministerial post and returns to parliament. The Norwegian arrangement may suit the circumstances of some other countries but it would be cumbersome in the much wider political and cultural environment of Israel

25. Many ask how the party leaders are elected under the TR System, especially when primaries seem to lose their importance. This question is dealt with in Part One of this book. Basically, each leader of each party except the Prime Minister, is elected or re-elected in the middle of the Knesset term by the candidates of the party in the last election (not by the Party’s MKs, who will naturally not include all the candidates). All these candidates cast the actual votes each obtained in the preceding general election – these are added together in selecting their leader. These votes are those of the real supporters of the party in the last election, and not the votes of paid members who often are recruited for that purpose. The selection becomes clean, with no corrupt practices. The procedures for re-elections of party leaders should be declared in mid term but if no candidate challenges the incumbent leader the re-election is dispensed with as the incumbent becomes automatically re-confirmed.

26. The prime minister need not submit himself to re-selection because he won his mandate by coming top ahead of the other leaders, and thus fulfilled his role and his party’s manifesto, and is therefore entitled to continue his role as leader of his party. This exception also adds to the stability of the government and is normal in other progressive democracies.

Aharon Nathan, 8th July 2008

Tuesday 1 July 2008

Representation in Democracy (The President’s Commission on Electoral Reform)

The President of Israel's Commission for Examining the Structure of Government and Governance in Israel

1. On February 17th 2003, at the opening session of the 16th Knesset, the President of Israel, Mr. Moshe Katsav, stated: “I call for the establishment of a Public National Commission consisting of public figures and experts that will discuss and recommend reforms concerning the structure of government.” In this chapter, I try to give a bird’s eye view of the deliberations of this Commission and its final report. The deliberations covered almost every aspect of debates about electoral systems and related fields of governance. The records of the minutes and submissions have been preserved and could be invaluable for future students of this subject.

2. The Citizens’ Empowerment Centre in Israel (CECI), spearheaded the formation of this Commission, and on September 25th 2005, The President’s Commission for Examining the Government and Governance of Israel was established under the Chairmanship of Professor Menachem Megidor, President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Upon delivering its mandate, President Moshe Katsav said:
· “I request that you analyse carefully the Israeli government structure, to examine the suitability of every alternative to the Israeli reality and the needs of the country, and to try to create a proposal that will assure increased power, stability, and effectiveness. I intend to submit these proposals to the Knesset and the cabinet.” The President went on to say: “Israeli democracy has, in my view, succeeded through the years to withstand the test of time, despite the many upheavals…the mounting elitism of the power structure can undermine the strength of the democracy more than security threats…
· Power instability can cause more extensive damage to the strength of the democracy. Despite it having withstood the trials of time, I think that power instability also prevents governments from properly fulfilling their tasks. If a recently elected government is immediately threatened by further elections, it is unable to fulfil its task properly…
· I am concerned with the decline of the status of the Knesset -- precisely because I appreciate that it is primary among power structures, and a sovereign authority. For that reason I am much concerned with and regret its negative public image.
· I am also concerned with the fact that the executive authority has almost unlimited power over the legislative branch. It is able to do whatever it wishes with the Knesset, while the Knesset, the legislative branch, has developed an intolerant dependency on the judicial branch. They apply for court ruling for every little thing while such decisions should have been reached in the Knesset itself without this insufferable dependency.
· I know there has been a lot of talk about changing the electoral system and I have my opinion on the subject though I will not voice it here. This issue must be examined versus the consideration and the consequences of such change. The national and state interests must be weighed. The question when, if at all the cultural, sectional and regional interests may be preferred over the national interests must be answered.
· I beseech you to analyse carefully the Israeli government structure to examine the suitability of every alternative to the Israeli reality and the needs of the country to try and create a proposal that will assure increased power stability and effectiveness and to propose a structure that would ensure meeting the challenges which confront the state of Israel in our generation.
· I intend to submit these proposals to the Knesset and the cabinet and for public discussion, and I hope that the Commission’s recommendations will gain the widest possible acceptance

3. I have quoted the President’s statement at length, as it authoritatively encapsulated the weaknesses of Israel’s political structure that the Commission was given the task of grappling with. After months of deliberations, its final report was handed on 1st January 2007 to the President, who in turn presented it – as he had promised – to the Speaker of the Knesset and the Prime Minister. In the aftermath of the Second Lebanon War, its findings, conclusions and recommendations were becoming more urgent and relevant.

4. To carry weight with the public, such a report had to take a clear-cut and unified approach on the issue of how to bring about an effective and representative Knesset and a stable government. Structural recommendations based on changes to the electoral system and changes in the Knesset and Government needed to be presented in a clear, straightforward package for the public to judge them. I offered the Commission my submission for the electoral reform part of the package. I stressed that I believed that no reform would endure and no system would be accepted by the electorate in Israel unless it was anchored and based on “Single Vote, Single Ballot, Single Constituency”. Explaining the case for TR-Total Representation to the members of the Commission, I put it to them that TR is simply the good old Westminster system which has been functioning successfully for hundreds of years in its native Britain – modified and adapted to the social and political needs of Israel. Its adoption by the Knesset would avoid forays into new, untested grounds which had given rise to the debacle of the direct election of the Prime Minister.

5. Unfortunately, instead of sticking to the guidance of its mandate for clear recommendations, the Commission cast its net so wide that it lost focus in the process. Much time was wasted on reviving the debate about a Presidential versus a Parliamentary System, especially amongst the academic members. This was largely caused by the way the sub-committees were divided. Instead of there being just one committee discussing electoral reform, responsibility for this basic issue was spread between three sub-committees. This was bound to result in divergent views that Commission Chairman Professor Megidor, a clear thinking physicist found hard to reconcile.

6. Whatever its value to students of political science and government, this long and hard-fought debate seemed to me to be irrelevant and unnecessary in the context of the Commission’s terms of reference. In the heat of the battle raging between the sub-committees, the protagonists forgot a fact that they should have understood: the two examples par excellence of the presidential and parliamentary systems – the USA and the UK respectively – both draw on the same theoretical background of John Locke, Montesquieu etc. The essence of both systems is representation of the people, and a government that is subject to checks and balances.

7. The Commission was also sidetracked into trying to find a system that would produce a strong leader, which is what they believed – rightly – the public was clamouring for. But why did they ignore the fact that the powers of the British Prime Minister actually exceed those of the US President? Israel’s Prime Minister lacks power because he/she lacks solid parliamentary backing. Professor Doron, despite his passion for a presidential system for Israel, was aware of the sterility of concentrating on the label rather than the content: he suggested a solution based on a strengthened parliamentary system based on the internal reform of the parties and consolidating their cohesion thus giving more stability to the Knesset and in turn the government. I believe that, irrespective of the recommendations of the Commission, the Doron Solution will be the one that both the public and the Knesset will eventually go for – but only after reform of the electoral system.

8. Another way in which the Commission became sidetracked was in debates on how to reach recommendations that would satisfy and be acceptable to politicians. This was further complicated by some members fighting for their own narrow political affiliation, instead of grappling with the whole spectrum of party political platforms. This was, of course, the wrong approach to the issues, because suddenly we found ourselves seeing things from the point of view of a 3,000-strong political establishment, rather than minding the interests of 3,000,000 voters. It is, after all, these last who will ultimately push for and force the Knesset to legislate for an electoral system that guarantees direct elections of individual members of the Knesset who can be directly held accountable to their constituents. And it was this element of accountability that the President stressed most in his brief. The ultimate outcome of this confusion resulted in the final report missing this cardinal ingredient in its recommendations.

9. From my perspective as a member of the Commission, I had to contend with yet another tug-of-war on electoral reform, between academic advocates who favoured Proportional Representation at all costs, and others who pushed for the regional or constituency principle. And the compositional mix of the membership did not help us converge. The blunt black-and-white views of army ex-generals and the legalistic argumentation of ex-senior judges clashed with the “on-the-one-hand-and-on-the-other” style of the 33 senior professors who were members of the Commission. And all this debate was often conducted in a very theoretical fashion – with less emphasis on what was suitable for the specific conditions of Israel’s society and its population-mix.

10. In the end I managed to get the message across to my colleagues in the Commission that in choosing an electoral system, we should not only aim for the best in theory, but also aim for what was most suitable to answer the basic problems facing Israel today. These problems are: a fragmented Knesset, unstable coalitions, a failure to draw our Jewish tribes together and, above all, to integrate our minorities, Arabs and religious Haredi Jews into the mainstream of our political and social life. We have to contend with the combination of all four problems when reforming the PR system that has sharpened and sustained the divisions in the country. Electoral reform is a powerful systemic tool that can help social convergence in the long run. Such structural systemic change in Israel can only endure if it takes account of all these problems together.

11. For years, the PR system has not only done little to solve the socio-political problems of the country; it has actually helped to sharpen and perpetuate them. In 1948, Israel adopted its present system by default. The Pre-Mandate Jewish Agency needed it to ensure representation for the whole mosaic of ideologies and religious sectarianism that characterised the Jewish people inside and outside Israel. The system played havoc in the post-independence period, and ever since has continued to rot Israeli society and fray the fabric of its politics. The merits of Proportional Representation are not inconsiderable – but in practice it is a system that has been proven to create and sustain instability in government after government. A succession of opinion polls have produced the same answer: people say they want a strong leader. Maybe they yearn for the good old days when, with his towering personality, Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, provided such leadership. But, for all his sterling qualities as a great leader and despite his efforts to play the democratic game, Ben Gurion was and acted as a benevolent dictator in the circumstances of those days – and the country loved it! The world has changed since then, and Israel desperately needs to change too. Today, the PR system is actually weakening the internal cohesion of the country and preventing its government from governing in the national interest. Tinkering around the edges will only make things worse and create a breakdown of the people’s trust in their political institutions. For instance, those who aim at disenfranchising segments of the electorate in order to achieve stability by raising the blocking threshold percentage to five per cent or more, are playing with explosive fire in the segmented Israeli society. It is paradoxical that the very principle of representation in PR needs blocking thresholds which denies representation to the voters who are blocked out.

12. To ensure a stable governments and efficient governance, the introduction of any new electoral system needs to be supplemented by structural changes and regulations relating to the internal working of the Knesset and the government. These are also needed for another reason: to prevent the rejection of the parliamentary system by the people in favour of a narrow, restrictive presidential system. The most important of these changes centres on the cohesion of political factions in the Knesset, and the tenure of the Prime Minister – the manner of his/her appointment and dismissal and his right to appoint some Ministers from outside the Knesset (albeit subject to hearings and confirmation in parliament). However, this series of issues was dealt with by other sub-committees of the Commission; as a result, the crowded agenda of the Commission and its deliberations became even more disjointed, and it made it very difficult for the Chairman to concentrate on the core issue of electoral reform in isolation.

13. The whole purpose of the President’s Commission was to find an alternative to Proportional Representation. My presentation of TR as an alternative provoked many reactions in the Commission, some positive and supportive, others negative and hostile. Zeev Segal, a notable professor of Law at Tel Aviv University, told the Commission that TR represented new thinking because it took care of the losers, which was its innovative approach. Thus he hit on one of the essences of the concept of compensation in TR: i.e allowing the voices of voters who did not manage to win seats for their candidates still to be represented in the final outcome of the election (albeit with lesser weight) – thus bringing all voters by proxy inside the sovereign tent of parliament.

14. Prof Doron, on the centre-left, Mr Yoash Tsidon Chatto, on the centre-right, and Mr Jamal Majadle, a member of the Commission who provided the Israeli Arab perspective, never wavered in their support for TR and kept its caravan on the road throughout. On the other hand, Professor Naomi Chazan, the chairman of a sub-committee, led many members of the Commission in fighting tooth-and-nail for preserving the status quo of pure PR. Belonging to the Meretz Party, a splinter Labour group in the Knesset, it was obvious that her narrow interest in its independent survival took precedence over her better academic judgement. In the end, she lost the battle of ideas and – together with a few of her supporters in the Commission – refused to sign the final report.

15. Professor Kaniel of the Hebrew University sought a solution in some mathematical formula based on De Hondt. He could not be convinced that none of the Commission members, let alone the general public, could fathom its intricacies. Professor Brichta of Haifa University, on the other hand, produced a challenging but clear and readable alternative to TR. He claimed that TR did not accurately translate the results of the elections into seats in the Knesset. He said that Israel was a sectarian and divided society and the new system needed to reflect this pluralism. He further assumed that a reform that took the representation of small parties out of the Knesset could not recruit their present MKs to support TR and would therefore be doomed – or if it succeeded, it would drive them underground, on to the streets and squares outside. But where does Professor Brichta’s point lead him? He could not see that he was in fact negating the very purpose of setting up the Commission. Moreover instead of healing the division in search of unity his proposals sought to perpetuate them.

16. The whole purpose of the President’s Commission was to find an alternative to PR, not to find new tools to confirm its validity. How can the core PR principle of proportionality of votes be changed whilst being preserved? Advocates of adhering to proportionality of votes in order to convert them into seats seem to miss the whole point of correcting PR. What, then, is the use of modifying PR when all they are proposing is to gain on the swings what they are prepared to lose on the roundabouts? I believe that the reason behind their obstinacy is rigid theoretical thinking based on old theories which seek authority in antiquity. But innovations can only come about when the past is studied critically and respected, and used not to obstruct but rather to pave the way for new thinking based on new situations on the ground. With the final report leaning to a great degree to the principles of TR, Professor Brichta too ended up refusing to sign it.

17. It was obvious that Professor Megidor, the Commission Chairman, was torn between the two camps of the TR and PR systems. Shimon Shetreet, Professor of Law and a brilliant biblical scholar, mild in manner and conciliatory in tone, recommended a compromise composite recommendation. Fatigue set in, and the Chairman of the Commission, in his final report on electoral reform, accepted the compromise, which is basically a modified version of TR, but opting for multi-member instead of single-member constituencies. Thus he confirmed the main principle of TR: i.e. to elect the candidate and his/her party with one vote, using one ballot paper. Together with the majority of other members, I signed with alacrity, knowing full well that the next stage – sooner rather than later – would be to fight to change the multi-members constituencies to single-member ones.

18. It is incredible that it escaped those who helped the Chairman to write his conclusions that they missed the central requirement of the President’s brief and the Commission’s own self-imposed guidelines: i.e. to embody the principle of accountability of the MK to his/her constituents. This is what the Chairman stated in his preamble to his report:
The Commission examined several voting systems within the framework of the following principles:
The need to boost the accountability of elected representatives to voters.
The need to foster stability by encouraging the formation of larger political blocs.
The need to maintain a reasonable level of representation, especially for minority groups.

19. Indeed, Professor Gideon Doron asked, in a penetrating commentary published by the Citizens’ Empowerment Centre in Israel (CECI) in the wake of the publication of the Final Report: who in a multi-member constituency (as recommended by the Report) is accountable to his/her constituents in order to hold him/her accountable and therefore punishable in the next election? The answer to this question challenged those members of the Knesset who set out to implement the Commission’s recommendation. Senior MKs representing the three biggest parties – Kadima, Labour and Likud – tabled a Draft Law in the Knesset on 2nd April 2008. It replaced multi-member constituencies with single-member ones, and thus incorporated all the principles of TR. The next chapter is an attempt to correct in time the deficiencies of this Draft which chose a ratio of 60/60 instead of the 90/30 ratio of CMPs and PMPs recommended by TR.

20. The following is the official summary of the Final Report that the tabled draft adopted in parts:
The System of Knesset Elections
The Commission believes that the system of Knesset elections should be changed to encourage the formation of large political blocs and greater accountability to constituents; i.e., giving greater weight to personalities in the electoral process. At the same time, the Commission believes a reasonable degree of representation must be maintained.
To counterbalance these two requirements, the Commission recommends the following changes:
1. Half the number of MKs, (i.e. 60) will be elected from national lists, the current practice.
2. The other 60 MKs will be elected from 17 constituencies as per the (Ministry of the Interior) breakdown into districts and sub-districts; the number of representatives per constituency will vary according to voter population (in practical terms, this means two to five representatives per constituency….
3. To encourage party consolidation, voters will vote in a single ballot for both regional representatives and a national list (In other words, voters will not be able to split their ballots).
4. To correct somewhat the distortions of proportional representation resulting from regional divisions, there will be a compensatory mechanism to transfer party votes “lost” in regional elections to that party’s national list in order to strengthen it. (The proposed mechanism is described in detail in the full report below).
5. To some extent, voters will be able to determine the composition of the national and/or regional list/s by preferential votes (The mechanism of which is elaborated in the full report).
The election threshold will be raised to 2.5% of the valid ballots in national elections or to party victory in at least three separate constituencies in regional elections.

Aharon Nathan, 1st July 2008

Thursday 1 May 2008

Israel Arab Conflict (Judenrhein and the Golan Heights)

1. Judenrhein is land pure and clean of Jews. This is the unrealised dream that Hitler designed for Germany, but which the Arabs fulfilled to the full in their countries. This is the Arab side of the Holocaust, the real tragic “NAQBAH” of the Jews who lived for centuries in Arab countries. Today every nation in Europe tries to apologise for associating themselves with this policy. Not so the Arabs. They are proud of their achievement, which they declare day and night as a matter of religious piety.

2. Stealthily or deliberately they managed to put this abomination into practice. And they find it natural, may be because it is embedded in their history and culture. The concept of Dar Al Islam (land of Muslims) and Dar Al Harb (land of enemies) is believed by them to be a religious dictate. It is what the almighty directed them to do. And they have indeed done it very well. Once you are converted to Islam you cannot go back. It is a one way street under sufferance of assassination and so is the case with land. Once it is conquered by Muslims, it is Muslim’s for ever. That is why Arabs are today reclaiming Spain right to the town of Poitiers in France, where Charles Martell stopped their advance and Europe to the gates of Vienna where the Polish King Jan III Sobieski stopped Kara Mustafa.

3. That’s all very well and could have been taken light heartedly today by the rest of the world had it not been for the West, which with tolerance and alacrity seem to accept as natural this attitude as long as it is directed towards the Jews. Even the rise of Bin Laden never woke up Europe to this phenomenon. The new “religion” of human rights and multiculturalism seem to gloss over the Arab attitudes and policies to Jews in general and to Israel in particular. Unfortunately for the Arabs, as it was so unfortunate for the fanatic Germans this is not helping them, the Arabs, in fact it is at the heart of their problems pulling them back to the dark ages. Islamic tolerance brought the enlightenment into Europe, but sadly skipped over their own nations elsewhere.

4. The solution to the Arab and especially the Palestinian plight in their relationship with Israel could have been resolved long time ago, if only their leaders grasped the immorality of the concept of Judenrhein and even more so if the West stopped accepting it as normal in Arab countries. This acquiescence fostered its encouragement with disastrous effect on the Arabs themselves. Unless some Arab leaders woke up to this situation, the Middle East will be engulfed in a sea of blood.

5. If the Palestinians as recently as the time of the evacuation of Gaza stood up and said: we claim back Gaza as our land , but we have no problem with the Jewish settlements there to stay as part of Palestinian Gaza with Jews living the way they live today in Germany, England and the USA, Gaza would have been today the new Hong Kong of the Middle East with Israel as its hinterland and market and source of finance.

6. A last chance to act sensibly lies today at the door of the Syrians to start a process, which will bring real peace and prosperity to the region. The Syrian leaders, who clamour for the Golan should take the initiative and suggest that the Jews in the Golan Heights can stay after the withdrawal of Israel to the shores of Tiberias as citizens of Syria or as Israelis in residence in a Syrian Golan subject, as other citizens in Syria, to Syrian law in the way the Jews live in England, France or Germany today. It is then that the Israeli resistance to withdrawal will melt away and a great and prosperous Golan can offer itself to millions of tourists from all over the world who will enjoy the fusion of Arab and Jewish culture reminiscent of and recalling the glorious days of Cordoba and Toledo.

Aharon Nathan, 1st May 2008