The Worst Alternatives
Prof. Paul Eidelberg
Mon Dec 24, 2012 8:28 am (PST) . Posted by: "Yaacov Levi" jlevi_us
Analysis of various parliamentary
electoral rules reveals diverse methods of dividing power between political parties
on the one hand, and the voters’ freedom of choice on the other. Israel has the worst of these two alternatives,
A simple example is the “Personalized
Proportional Representation” system used in Germany. There, 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 that is won by a
plurality. The second vote 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. This is an excellent system.
Obviously related to the method of forming a government’s
Legislative Branch is the method of forming its Executive Branch. Various
commentators—the present author among them—have argued that Israel should replace
its parliamentary system, which produces a government consisting of five or more
rival parties, with a Unitary Executive or Presidential or semi-Presidential
system. Let’s define these terms beginning with the latter.
A semi-presidential system features both a prime
minister and a president who are active participants in the day to day
functioning of government. It
differs from the parliamentary system in that it has a
popularly elected president who is not a ceremonial figurehead,
and it differs from the presidential system in that it has an executive
prime minister who has some responsibility to the legislature.
How the powers between president and prime
minister are divided can vary greatly between countries.
For example, in France the president is responsible for foreign policy and the prime minister for
domestic policy. In this case, the
division of power between the prime
minister and the president is not explicitly stated in the constitution, but
has evolved as a political convention.
Consider Finland, Although Finland employs a
system copied from France, the division of executive power is explicitly stated
in the constitution: "the foreign policy is led by the president in
cooperation with the cabinet". Most executive power thus resides in
the cabinet or Council of State headed by the prime minister.
As in Israel,
the prime minister is leader of the party gaining largest number of votes in
the elections for the parliament. He
or she has the responsibility for forming the cabinet out of several political
parties and negotiating its platform.
This arrangement, in principle, is not conducive to coherent and resolute
national policies. Logic, however, is not the last word in politics.
Still, Finland’s Constitution has redeeming
features. Unlike Israel’s
parliament, Finland’s (unicameral) Parliament is independent. It can override presidential vetoes and its acts
are not subject to judicial review. The
members of parliament are elected on the basis of Proportional Representation
list multi-member districts.
With an open list, voters have some influence on
the order in which a party's candidates are elected.
In contrast, a closed list allows a small number of the party leaders to
determine the order of candidates and gives the voter no influence at all on
the position of the candidates placed on the party list.
This approximates the situation in Israel
despite party primaries.
Now consider Ireland. Article 6
of its Constitution states that all powers of government "derive, under
God, from the people. To this extent Catholic
Ireland is closer to the Hebraic Republic of antiquity than one can say of today’s
Jewish state of Israel! But it also means that political parties must take into
account the religious convictions of most citizens more so than is the case f
Israel. This affects the balance of power between parties and the people, and it
favors the people, which cannot be said of Israel, where the power of the religious
is disproportionate to the secularists, and, as we shall see, to the advantage of
Ireland’s Constitution provides for a directly elected, ceremonial President and a bicameral parliament in which the lower house is
dominant. In the elections to the lower house, the voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no
candidate receives an overall majority of first preferences the
candidates with fewest votes are eliminated one by one, and their votes
transferred according to their second and third preferences (and so on), until
one candidate achieves a majority.
Turning to the upper branch, the Senate: unless there has been an reported change,
Ireland’s Constitution prescribes that 49 members of its 60 members must
be elected from five panels of candidates having professional knowledge of, and
practical experience in, the following domains of public concern: “(1) National
Language, Culture, Literature, Art, Education and such professional interests
as may be defined by law for the purpose of this panel; (2)Agriculture and allied interests ...; (3)Labor, whether organized or unorganized; (4)Industry and Commerce,
including banking, finance, accountancy, engineering and architecture; (5) Public
Administration and social services...” Ireland’s Constitution thus prescribes a Senate consisting of well-educated personalities—professionals,
not amateurs who become instant legislators or cabinet ministers as do retired
to the rulings of Israel’s ultra-secular Supreme Court, Ireland’sConstitution
explicitly states that the publication of "blasphemous, seditious, or
indecent matter" is a criminal offence.
Moreover, under Ireland’s Constitution the State must
"protect the family" and its "imprescriptable rights, antecedent
and superior to all positive law".
The State must also ensure that economic
circumstances do not oblige a mother to work outside of the home.
In conclusion, the Irish Constitution is more democratic, more rational,
and more conducive to professionalism and public spiritedness than the anarchic,
ego-driven system of government prevailing in the State of Israel. Indeed, the
same may be said of the 80 governments I have examined and which are classified
I will go further. Israel’s present system of governance is less subject to
public discussion than the system Jews receivedat Mount Sinai.
And so, to the religious and other Zionists vying for seats in Israel’s
Knesset, and who perpetuate its method of distributing power between parties and the people, Merry Christmas!