Proportional representation myth and fact
Many commentators claim that proportional representation provides a just numerical representation of the distinct ideological, ethnic, economic, and other groups composing a society. This may be true in theory, but it’s a myth in practice. Those who support proportional representation assume that the parties or party leaders representing the various groups of society will in fact be faithful to their respective group’s beliefs and interests. This is not the case in democratic Israel.
Proportional representation produces surrender
The most striking refutation of the proportional representation myth will be found in the policy positions taken by Likud leaders such as the late Ariel Sharon and today’s Benjamin Netanyahu. Even though his Likud party won 38 seats in the January 2003 Knesset elections, PM Sharon, and contrary to his party’s central committee, adopted Labor’s policy of expelling all Jews from their homes in 2005, and the creation of a Palestinian state – a position opposed by 70 percent of Likud voters in the 2003 election.
Moreover, in the February 2009 election campaign, Benjamin Netanyahu deliberately avoided any reference to territorial withdrawal; but four months later, on June 14, he endorsed the creation of a Palestinian state contrary to his party’s constitution and the Zionist convictions of most Likud voters.
Likud chairman Sharon in 2003, and Likud chairman Netanyahu in 2009, virtually became Labor’s and surrogate prime ministers! They are not alone in this shameless betrayal of their party’s principles and of the public in general. Thus, during the 1992 Knesset election campaign, Labor leader Yitzhak Rabin promised the nation No recognition of, and No negotiation with, the PLO. This was the position of his party’s program. Nevertheless, Rabin signed the September 13, 1993 Oslo or Israel-PLO Agreement. By so doing he betrayed his pledge to the voters on an issue involving nothing less than the very borders of the State of Israel.
Rabin was helped by the SHAS Party leaders, who had promised their religious voters, in the same 1992 election campaign, that they would never join an ultra-secular Labor-Meretz government.
The Oslo II evacuation
Now, ponder the October 1995 Knesset vote on the Oslo II agreement, which created Arab rule in the Judea and Samaria by mandating Israel’s withdrawal from six major cities. Oslo II passed by a vote of 61-59, but only because two MKs of the now defunct “right-wing” Tsomet Party were bribed to switch sides and vote with the Rabin Government in exchange for a ministry and a deputy ministry!
Finally, a word about the 1999 elections, when 29 MKs hopped over to rival parties! This may have pleased voters whose political morality has declined along with the level of Israeli politics in general; but surely many voters felt betrayed. Proportional Representation failed them – miserably. Yet we look in vain for any reputedly right-wing journalist on the Jerusalem Post or elsewhere to highlight this fact to his or her readers. Proportional representation is a Regime issue, and journalists avoid regime issues like the plague. None dares expose the operational lie that surfaced with the founding of the ‘only Democracy’ in the Middle East: that would endanger an invitation to lecture in the United States.
The vast majority of Israelis, knowingly and unknowingly, abhor the nation’s electoral system, by which an MK is not held accountable to the voters in constituency elections. Some years ago, a poll commissioned by former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, indicated that almost 90% of the public regards the Knesset as a haven for job-seekers, meaning individuals who pursue their own personal and partisan interests in contradistinction to the national interest. Many people may say that this is inevitable given the vices of human nature. But Israel’s democratic fixation on Proportional Representation magnifies human vices by multiplying the number of small or single-issue parties.
Probing deeper, and contrary to appearances, Proportional representation weakens the bond between representatives and the voters by compelling citizens to vote for a party list rather than an individual candidate. This means that the candidates on a party list who become incumbent Knesset Members are not individually accountable to the voters, and do not have to defend their voting record before a rival candidate.
Who benefits from proportional representation?
This is not to deny any merit to proportional representation. Consider Germany, which employs “Personalized Proportional Representation.” The voter is given two votes, one for an individual candidate and one for a party list. The candidate vote is for a single-member district contest which is won by a plurality. The second vote, however, is for a party list, and is used to provide compensatory seats to those parties which did not receive in the single-member districts the seat share proportional to their nationwide vote share. (Actually, much the same result can be achieved with a single vote, as in Denmark and Sweden.) Proportional representation benefits parties with greater ideological cohesion, but at the cost of rendering it more difficult to articulate and pursue the common good or public interest.
Did I say the “public interest”? But how can there be a rational and coherent public interest when 30 and more parties compete in a national election? Indeed, Israel has never come close to having a Majority Party Government!
Israel would be well-advised to scrap proportional representation if only because its divisiveness undermines the national unity essential for Israel’s survival. This was the conclusion of a 1953 report of Israel’s Beth Hillel Society for Social Research on “Electoral Reform,” a report signed by eminent Israelis who recognized that Proportional Representation undermines national unity, severs the bond between voters and their representatives, and makes nonsense of democracy. Moreover, by producing cabinets headed by rival parties, Proportional representation conduces to incompetence, corruption, and even foreign manipulation.
(By the way, it has been shown that the number of possible disputes in government increases roughly as the square of the number of parties. Enough reason to condemn proportional representation in besieged Israel.)
These are statements of fact. They are confirmed virtually every day by the chicanery, ineptitude, and instability of Israel’s Multiparty Cabinet Governments – a situation exploited by Israel’s “friends” and enemies alike. One would think that a serious political analyst – especially a political scientist – would make this her or his cause célèbre. ◙