Beyond the Cusp

January 21, 2013

Israeli Elections and the Need for so Many Parties

One question often asked about Parliamentary systems of governments is why the countries who have them need to have so many parties while the opposite is asked of the American where people wonder how they can be represented by significantly only two parties. There are of course as many answers to these two queries as there likely are parties in Parliamentary elections. Actually the American elections have numerous parties but the vast number of the so-called third parties never seems to end up making much of a showing with very few historical exceptions. The reason is in countries with parliamentary systems there are many political parties which center themselves on serving a reasonably significant segment of the society and the central issues, sometimes a single issue, which more or less serves only those people. Then there are usually two, or on rare occasions as in the United States three, parties which run on a general platform aimed at the population as a whole. The result is which party will eventually form the governing coalition out of those two main general issues parties and how many, as well as which, of the minor parties will they need to give guarantees to form their coalition. In this manner the people who are loyal to the smaller parties will each be an instrumental part of the ruling coalition and through that membership has an ability to sway, or actually more like force, the major party to pay a price and thus assure their members have their issues addressed. Where in many parliamentary systems one or the other of the main parties will actually manage to gather the necessary seats on their own therefore not finding a coalition necessary, in Israel that has proven quite impossible in recent history and that, I believe, is the uniqueness of the Israeli political landscape which might need some investigation.

The most likely reason that Israel has so many parties which regularly hold what results in being sufficiently significant numbers of supporters in election after election likely has to do with much of the Israeli population having come from such diverse areas, cultures and other determining backgrounds. It might also have to do with the diverse issues confronting Israeli society and the effects it has on the various sectors of the society. Perhaps a couple of examples would shed some light on what I mean. The Green Party in Israel, as in numerous other places, directly addresses largely issues concerning the ecology and issues of sustainability and harmony of life when concerned with pollution and other environmental issues while Shas serves the Sephardic Hasidic sector of the society. The coming Israeli elections will actually witness a passing of one party from its temporary position of prominence and the rise of the next party rising to challenge the perennial top vote getters, Labor and Likud. The party passing back into the background is Kadima which had figured prominently in recent years since its founding but appears to now be fading as it faced some leadership challenges and may be splintering with many of its members returning to their origins. Taking its shot at entering the significant polling parties appears to be the Jewish Home Party. Time will tell if its rise will end up being the passing of the torch on the nationalist side and their becoming a perennial power or if this is simply another political party taking its turn in the limelight. But the real story behind the coming Israeli election is the story that usually is behind them, who will be the heartbreakers who will hold the coalition leading party to slowly roast as they grill them to pay the piper or suffer another election. And that is the one advantage the plethora of smaller parties has in Parliamentary systems, election and campaigning tends to cost them far less so they fear dissolving government less. That may be their true power.

The one oddity that arises on somewhat rare occasions is the unity government where the two main parties decide that for the good of the country they will make an agreement to share ruling the country. These governments give the vision of a balanced, strong government but often it proves to be just an illusion as where in love opposites attract, in politics, not so much. Some of the intrigues in Israeli politics does not revolve around the election or even its results but upon the decision made by a politician who has been chosen to chair the Presidency, a presumably apolitical position currently so politically filled by Simon Peres. This will especially be interesting at the back end of the coming elections as everybody will actually not be assured whether President Peres will give the nod to the leading vote getter or once again allow the second place, or third place should Jewish Home finish their rally ahead of the Labor Party, and give Shelly Yachimovich the first shot at forming a coalition. The one guarantee we can likely count on is that Naftali Bennett will not be asked, short of a decree from above, to form the next coalition. It is not like President Peres doesn’t have a history of allowing the second largest party from making the coalition over the party actually garnering the most seats. The other question which may have a strong bearing on the future of Israel is will the Jewish Home Party garner sufficient seats to make Benyamin Netanyahu’s only possible choice to form a coalition be to include Naftali Bennett in a lead position or include the Labor as well as Yair Lapid, Tzipi Livni and Shas Party and then figure how to ride such a multi-headed monstrosity.

In a strictly serious last peek, what would make this election surprising?  It would be astonishing if the merged Likud-Beyteinu Party collapsed sufficiently to not lead the next government. What would not be as surprising is should Labor break twenty seats in the Knesset that they would be allowed to try and form a coalition before giving Netanyahu, what he and others likely would believe, the first chance to form a coalition as head of the leading vote getting party. President Peres would likely claim that Bibi was only leader of Likud and that it only received about twenty seats as well as Lieberman’s Beyteinu Party corralled the remainder. In a metaphysical way that would be karma payback for Netanyahu forming a coalition over Tzipi Livni when Kadima led Likud in the votes department. Anybody think that may have been the lynchpin which once pulled drove her over the edge and her making destroying Netanyahu seemingly her life’s singular goal in life. Then it is anybody’s guess which side Shas would prefer to have leading the coalition they join but one can be assured they will likely be providing the deciding numbers for the next governing coalition. And lastly, is it possible that Benyamin Netanyahu has made a deal to lead the next coalition by promising to not allow Bennett and Jewish Home be included and instead include Yair Lapid, and by some miracle, Tzipi Livni along with Shas and whatever other parties are needed to reach sixty-one members in the coalition. And lastly, would Shelly Yachimovich be able to swallow hard and join in a unity government for the sake of allowing Israel to make the difficult choices which will likely confront the next government. The most puzzling thing is trying to figure out exactly why any practical and sane human being would actually seek to be responsible for what Israel may possibly face in the near future. Whoever is chosen and leads the next Israeli government, though initially believing they have attained a great goal in life, I pray they are still of the same mind by the end of their term as Prime Minister. I do not envy the choices they will need to decide and can only hope their decisions are wise and for the best for Eretz Yisroel going into the future and may that future hold all the promise which we dream about in our prayers. Well, this will definitely be an interesting week, in Jerusalem and in Washington. Washington’s reactions may prove to be the most intriguing and interesting when all is done.

Beyond the Cusp

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