I recently read an article written by journalist and commentator, Nechama Duek, in which she advocated changing Israel’s electoral system. In her article, published in Israel Hayom on May 9th, Duek said that, “the plurality of parties in Israel is the root of all evil.” Yes indeed, Israel has a multitude of political parties. In fact, the last time I checked, there were 13 factions represented in the Knesset, some of which contain more than one party. And these are just the factions that have representation in the Knesset. There are several other factions and parties that have contested elections to Israel’s legislature, but have no representation because they did not meet the minimum electoral threshold of 3.25% of the popular vote.
In her article, Duek implied that she admires countries in which there are only two principal political parties. But would an electoral system that discourages a multitude of parties be better for Israel? I think not. In fact, as a person who lives in Canada, I envy the Israeli electoral system, because it allows nearly all segments of society the chance to be represented in the country’s legislative body, hence the prevalence of many parties. I also envy Israel’s electoral system because it accurately reflects the will of the voting public. Thus, a party that receives 10% of the vote receives about the same proportion of the seats in the Knesset. This is because Israel uses proportional representation.
In contrast, Canada uses an electoral system known as first-past-the-post, which has been discarded by most of the world’s industrialized democracies. The first-past-the-post system tends to produce a situation in which there are two dominant political parties. Since its founding in 1867, Canada has always been ruled by one of two political parties, the Liberals and Conservatives. In Canada, a party that gets less than half of the votes in an election can, and usually does, get the majority of the seats in the country’s parliament, which translates into 100% of the power. Thus, one party alone gets to form a government, without the need to include other parties, which basically means one-party rule for a period of four years.
Think for a moment. Would you want to be governed by one party for four years? A party that would probably not even have the support of the majority of voters? That doesn’t sound like democracy, does it? You know what else isn’t democratic? A system in which most voters elect no one. In other words, a system in which most votes don’t count. This is the kind of electoral system that Canada has. Unlike Israel, Canada is divided into electoral districts known as ridings. When Canadians vote, they vote for a candidate to represent whichever riding they live in, the same way voters in the US vote for candidates to represent their districts in elections to the House of Representatives. The candidate that receives the most votes in a riding wins and gets to represent that riding in Canada’s parliament. The winning candidate does not even need to win a majority of votes. Hence, a person could easily get elected to Canada’s parliament with, say, 40% of the popular vote. But what happens to the votes of people who didn’t vote for the winning candidate in each riding? Well, they don’t count. It’s as if the people who voted for losing candidates just stayed home and didn’t vote at all. How is this democracy? It isn’t, which is why, as I said previously, most industrialized democracies have abandoned this type of electoral system. Canada, the US, and the UK are the only mature democracies in the industrialized world that still use it.
Today, most democracies in the industrialized world, including Israel, use proportional representation, because it is the system that most accurately reflects the will of the voters. A party that gets 10% of the vote is given a roughly equivalent proportion of the seats in a legislature. No more, no less. And nearly every vote counts towards determining the proportion of seats each party will have. Unlike Israel, however, most other countries with proportional representation have stable governments, despite having many political parties. Therefore, the instability that characterizes Israeli politics is not a product of the electoral system, as Nechama Duek implies.