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Nov 11, 2012

The Need For Electoral Reform

There was a 3-way interview, perhaps one can call it a mini-debate, on the radio this morning. Globes reports that the participants in this discussion were 3 people, each vying for a slot on their respective party's list for Knesset; Dr. Avi Simchon for the Likud list, Itzik Shmuley for the Labor list and Yaakov Perry (not vying for a spot but already granted one) for the Yesh Atid list.

Globes details the opinions stated regarding the issue of taxes and closing the gap in the budget deficit. Perhaps they discussed other issues as well, or maybe not - I don't know. The interviewer, Orli Vilnai asked the three how they would close the hole of a 14 billion shekel deficit in the budget.

The three answers were:
Dr Simchon: The education budget will increase this year but is still smaller than what we intended. Also the budgets for infrastructure and security will grow, but less that what was expected.

Yaakov Perry: Dr. Simchon is correct, but all the topics that they spoke about will need to cut costs. First of all, we need to cut the expenses of the government. The government needs to have only 18 ministers, not 35. It starts with this. There is already a tax for the wealthy. The tax on companies can be increased. We can also cut from the budget for security.

Dr. Simchon: Sharon was not stupid, and he is the one who invented the large government. It helps in ruling and survivability of the government.

Itzik Shmuley: The government of Israel is full of ministers with no portfolio that we, as citizens, don't understand what exactly they are doing. There is a problem. We have to give a personal example.

The issue of the number of ministers is a major issue and the cause of a lot of waste. Is rectifying that alone goign to be enough to solve budget problems? I doubt it. But it is a start. I too believe the government has gotten too large. Too many ministers. Too many ministers without portfolios, which is basically a position that is just a bribe for a party to vote with the government and stay in the coalition.

But it is not just the ministers with a portfolio. It is also the way the government, since Ariel Sharon's tenure as prime minister, has increasingly divided the government positions into more and more ministries, which was also a form of political bribery - creating positions that never before existed, or were necessary, dividing responsibilities off of other positions - just so the party will vote in line and be a part of the coalition. Netanyahu is as responsible for this as his predecessors, Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon, were.

It's important that this issue be resolved and that the government go back down to a reasonable number of ministers. Yaakov Perry says 18, and maybe that's a good number to start with. I'd like to see it smaller, even back down to the range of just 9-11 ministers.

The reason it became necessary for the government to bloat the number of ministries was because the large parties became smaller, retaining less control of the government, and the smaller, more sectoral parties, became a bit larger or more numerous, taking more influence in the government coalition. The large parties needed the small parties more and more and had to bribe them with more and more positions of power and influence (and paychecks and benefits) in order to keep them happy.

The way to solve it is not just cutting down the number of ministries offered - the small parties wont agree, and the large parties then will not be able to form a government. The way to solve it is first with electoral reform - find a way to cut down on the small parties level of influence. Raise the minimum threshold, increase the requirements for forming a party and other moves that will limit the further fragmentation of the government. When the small, sectoral, parties have less influence, they will not be in the position to demand as much as they are demanding today. And, with fewer small parties, there will be less need to continue fragmenting the ministries and the government can put the ministries back together into manageable numbers and offices.

The large parties can't do this today, as they are too beholden to the small parties. The medium-level parties need to step up and push the electoral reform. That is something some of them have been campaigning on for the past few elections, and ti is time for them to step up and actually push it.



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25 comments:

  1. Pinch me, please. The Likud guy is arguing for a bigger government, and the Labor guy is arguing for smaller government?

    Let me make a note of this Simchon guy, that I should not vote for him in the Likud primaries.

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    1. My thoughts exactly!

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    2. How could they argue otherwise, when they've been the major culprits in bringing this situation about?

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    3. Baruch, I would understand if the Likud guy's line of argument was like I'm saying, defending the Likud's history of bloated governments bediavad: "What else could we do? We have to form a coalition, and the little parties wield too much power! Instead of voting for splinter parties, vote Likud, and that will give us a freer hand in making a smaller government."

      Instead, what he said was that large governments are good, because they prolong the life of the coalition. That kind of muddled thinking does not merit my support.

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    4. Totally agree with you, Shaul, and with your comment below. I just don't think this guy is any worse than the other people in the party, who also go out and try to defend what is really indefensible. I'll go one step further - I don't think Likud even has to do what they do to form a government. What I would like to see them do is say to the other parties, sorry, we are not going to propose a bloated government just to make you (and our own party hacks) happy. If you don't like it, there will be no government, and if necessary, we'll have new elections. I think that kind of approach might actually accomplish something, if Bibi or whoever would have the guts to try it.

      What's really a shame is that Bibi had the opportunity to change this, when he made his abortive unity government with Kadima. It's a shame he didn't have the guts to get beyond the first hurdle, the yeshiva draft exemption, and tackle this issue. The political circumstances existed, if only for a few months - personally, while I'm no big fan of Mofaz, I think Mofaz is getting too much of the blame for what, to my way of thinking, was an honest attempt on his part to bring about this and other much-needed reforms. And, of course, to save his dying party at the same time.

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  2. There will never be electoral reform because that means one of the major parties might lose definitively in the next election.
    As for the number of ministers, the US has a constitutional limit on ministers - secretaries - and after over 200 years and incredible population growth this has not changed. Why does Israel need so many?

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    1. "There will never be electoral reform because that means one of the major parties might lose definitively in the next election"

      depends on what the words election reform mean. higher minimum percentage, regional seats, presidential type government, combination of the above?

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    2. Under washington there were only 4 Ministries, new ones get added from time to time. All it takes is an act of congress

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    3. As Zach said - I'm pretty sure there's no Constitutional limit. What's good about the US system is that the President can choose his own cabinet, without the need to use these positions for coalition-building purposes. What's even better is that although the President needs Congressional approval to appoint cabinet ministers, he can fire them at will.

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  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty-second_government_of_Israel

    looking at this list - most of the joke ministries actually went to likud members. shas has 4 seats; 3 are real (interior, housing, religion). all of yisrael beitenu's ministry are real positions.

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  4. same difference. the pm has to make his own people happy too and give them jobs. he cant *just* give all the jobs to the other members of his coalition.

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  5. Anyone who votes for a splinter/sectoral party - and by that, I mean anyone other than Likud or Labor - has no right to complain when the government is bloated with joke ministries to pay off the minority factions in the coalition.

    Imagine if the Likud, by itself, got 61 seats. No need for any wheeling and dealing; the Likud would simply become the government by itself, and they would not have to buy off any whiney little sectoral parties that just want a bigger piece of the pie.

    If you want small government, then support whichever large party best represents your views. And punish the splinter groups. I think Naftali Bennett is a great guy, but if he wants my vote, then let him bring the whole of Mafdal/Bayit Yehudi under the Likud umbrella.

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  6. bibi's problem wasn't the small parties - it was making sure that the likud didn't drive him nuts. bibi co-opted any opposition within the likud by handing out (and making up) cabinet positions. that list doesn't include all of the deputy ministers either.

    why people would rather have a nothing cabinet position as opposed to a top level committee chairmanship is unclear to me.

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  7. The root of the problem is the proportional representation system that allows so many small parties to get seats in the Knesset making it impossible for any one party to get a majority. The system needs to be changed. I posted about this a few times:

    http://jewishworker.blogspot.co.uk/2006/01/electoral-system-in-israel-is-broken.html
    http://jewishworker.blogspot.co.uk/2007/01/election-reform-in-israel.html

    The suggestions listed above would go a long way towards solving the issues.

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    1. FWIW, proportional representation actually does work in South Africa, where the ANC has around 2/3 majority by itself, so there's no need for any coalitions.

      That said, I agree with you 100% about district representation being a far, far better system. And you and I can go and tap-dance on the roof of the Knesset till next January, shouting for district representation, and it won't make one whit of difference, because the people who would have to vote it into law just happen to be the selfsame people whose unaccountability is our loss and their gain. Why on earth would they vote to make themselves more accountable?

      The only way it'll ever happen is if Labor and Likud together get 61 seats, and between them they realize they'll benefit from the loss of the small parties in district-based elections, and so collude to pass electoral reform. But absent a national unity government, that could only happen as the final act of a dissolving Knesset. I was hoping they'd do it this time around (Likud 27 + YB 16 + Kadima 28), but they disappointed me... probably because Kadima realized that as a sinking ship, they would do better to hang on to the existing system that rewards small parties (and soon-to-be small parties).

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    2. proportional representation works in a whole bunch of places - where the minimum % is decently high. here it is 2%. raise it to 5% and parties like the mafdal and IL would have to merge or die (even that might not be enough; i didn't do the math). same with yahadut hatorah, they would have to join shas. and the arab parties would have to merge.

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  8. everyone seems to be blaming the large number of cabinet positions on the small parties. from the link above i am labeling the following as joke cabinet seats:

    Minister of Economic Strategy
    Minister of Pensioner Affairs
    Minister of Development of the Negev and Galilee
    Minister of Regional Development
    Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy
    Minister of Culture and Sport
    Minister for Home Front Defense
    Minister of Improvement of Government Services
    Minister of Minorities
    Minister of Information and Diaspora
    Minister of Science and Technology

    plus the three ministers w/o portfolio and probably all of the deputy ministers (not listed).

    these ministries are headed by likud MKs (and the one mafdal minister), not shas, no YB. yahadut hatorah has a seat as well, even tho bibi formally holds the ministry (of health).

    so the real problem is the likud members over-inflated egos, which tells them that an MK is nothing, you have to be in the cabinet to have any power.

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    1. Not entirely fair, Ben. It's like when one of your kids sees that his sister got a toy. He was perfectly happy playing with his train set until then, but now that his sister got a new doll, the train is not good enough, and he also wants a new toy.

      When the Likud has 27 MKs, and little pipsqueak factions like Barak's Independence Party are getting 4 ministries for 5 MKs, it's very difficult for a PM to sell to his own party MKs that they should shut up and be satisfied with being backbenchers. The fact that Independence got the "real" portfolios, while the Likudnikim got the "joke" portfolios is almost coincidental. The real problem is that parties like Independence even exist, and can extort the PM for ministries in return for coalition support. If the Likud had 61 MKs, we could easily have under 10 ministries, and there would be no need to "buy off" any MKs.

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    2. bibi gave miki eitan and yuli edelstein etc those joke jobs at the beginning of this government (2009?). independence came later. independence only exists because it split with labor (under a law meant to reform the old way of splitting from a party). they weren't elected in.

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    3. OK, so at the time it was 4 (or 5?) portfolios for 13 Labor MKs. Still, following proportionality rules, you need to have 9 portfolios for 27 Likud MKs. My point still stands.

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    4. I don't understand your list of joke ministries. Some of those are really quite important. Do you think they should not be minstries but something else instead?

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    5. all of those ministries were either carved out of other ministries (eg culture and sport) or they are jobs which were simply made up; they never existed before.

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  9. it is everybody's egos and demands for power.
    If shas demands, and gets, 1 minister for every 3 MKS, and YB demands the same, and then others do as well, it is only logical the Likud MKs will demand to get the same. They dont want to be left behind, and Netanyahu/Likud doesnt want to be 'under-represented" in the government. the Likud MKs can demand all that because the others do.

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  10. The Fathom article makes an interesting argument against election reform.

    Actually, it makes a really good argument about looking to the wrong places for how government can and should work in general.

    http://www.fathomjournal.org/policy-politics/the-accidental-wisdom-of-israels-maligned-electoral-system/

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    1. excellent article. the goal of election reform can not be "screw the hareidim".

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