Does the System Work?

Pros and cons of the Israeli electoral system.

Print this page Print this page

2)      Coalitions can lead to incoherent policies or government inaction. Due to the fact that coalitions can include parties bringing to the government table different and sometimes contradictory ideologies, government policies in Israel have been known to be incoherent on many issues, with different ministers within the same government supporting opposing views. In the worst cases, governments can be paralyzed into inaction when bold moves are needed, because the members of the coalition cancel each others' votes.

3)      No-confidence votes can lead to instability. Small parties or even individual Knesset members within the coalition, who feel that they are not receiving enough of a budget, support for pet legislation, or attention can threaten to walk out of the coalition if the Prime Minister does not respond to their demands. If their pulling out of the coalition can indeed translate into a successful no-confidence vote and the collapse of the government, this is a threat no prime minister can ignore. Between 1996 and 2009, Israel had no fewer than four different prime ministers, each of whom complained that the amount of time and effort needed to deal with the near constant mini-crises created by coalition members come at the expense of resources needed to deal with true crises in the affairs of state.

Electoral Reform

In April 1990, Israelis watched with growing unease a drama unfolding in the Knesset. Shimon Peres had a month earlier toppled the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir by a vote of no-confidence, and Peres was attempting to form a new government with himself at the helm, without calling for new elections. At the last minute, Peres fell short of a majority in the Knesset by one vote, and Shamir retained his position. But Peres' maneuver did succeed in catalyzing broad sentiments in favor of electoral reform. How could it happen, many Israelis asked themselves, that the identity of the prime minister and composition of the government could possibly be changed thoroughly by the actions of 120 members of the Knesset, without the issue being brought to a vote before the collective public?

Ever since then, the question of whether the system works and how it can be improved has been a regular subject of discourse in Israel. Many people express great dissatisfaction with the system and the weaknesses they see in it, but there has been no agreement on the question of how to reform the system.

In 1996, there was an attempt at major electoral reform -- the direct election of the prime minister, in which voters voted for individual prime minister candidates separate from the vote for parties vying for Knesset seats. However, given the short and turbulent terms of the two prime ministers elected under this system, the direct elections concept was discontinued following Ariel Sharon's election to prime minister in 2001. The previous system was restored, returning electoral reform to square one.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Ziv Hellman is a Jerusalem-based writer and mathematician. A former editor at the Jerusalem Post, Ziv was a founding member of Peace Watch--the watchdog group reporting on the implementation of the Oslo Agreements. He also led the Israeli elections observer team evaluating the Palestinian Authority elections.