The elections are off. Some things you just don’t see coming. That’s what keeps political science, and political blogging, interesting.
What Mofaz saw coming was the collapse of Kadima support, and the complete absence of any bounce from his becoming party leader and an unlikely head of the center-left bloc. It is less clear what Netanyahu’s motives are, as the polls showed a large increase in Likud seats from an early election, and a dominant position in subsequent coalition-building.
There is a mention of an agreement to pursue changes to the electoral system, but it is not clear of what sort.
From a NYT article, we get an early hint at the strategy of Kadima under new leader Shaul Mofaz. He is staking out “left”-leaning positions in his goal of becoming leader of a center-left coalition after the next election.
He has to tilt left unless he wants to end up as a junior partner to Likud and PM Benjamin Netanyahu–something the article quotes him as explicitly ruling out. However, he also needs his party to attract votes off Likud or other parties of the right bloc, or else all he does is re-arrange the votes and seats within the left-leaning bloc.
The article goes through aspects of Mofaz’s personal biography that allegedly might broaden his party’s appeal, and concludes with this point on the strategy:
Yohanan Plesner, a Kadima legislator who began working closely with Mr. Mofaz 18 months ago, said it was not far-fetched to beat Mr. Netanyahu.
“Our polls show that we only have to capture 4 percent of the soft right to block Netanyahu’s hold,” he said. “With his security credentials and focus on rebuilding relations with the United States, Mofaz can do that. He may not have charisma, but he knows how to set a goal and build a team.”
It will be tough to pull off, but it is worth a try. The party really was not going anywhere under Tzipi Livni’s leadership.
This “news” item was in response to an “announcement” by Labor Party Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich of “her intention to run for prime minister against incumbent leader Benjamin Netanyahu in the coming election.”
This is hardly big news. When you are the leader of a party in a parliamentary system you are generally presumed to be said party’s candidate to be prime minister. So we did not learn anything new by this announcement–which makes it seem as if the PM is elected directly, like a president. Which, you may know, Israel tried for a little while, but it was such a disaster that they went back to standard parliamentarism over a decade ago.
So, while we have known since Yachimovich won the leadership contest of one of Israel’s four largest parties that she was thereby a candidate for the top executive post, it is much more difficult to see how she can become prime minister than it is to recognize her intentions. The dynamics of the post-election coalition situation are unlikely to favor Labor.
A parliamentary election is not due till late 2013, but there is continuing speculation that it could be called for later this year.
Should the candidates on party lists, and their ranks, be determined by a system of primary elections? The New Zealand Herald has an editorial on 20 February that suggests primaries for the list tier of the NZ MMP system.
Whatever the calibre of party appointees to Parliament, it seems wrong that they are not subjected to some sort of electoral test. Perhaps list seats should have to be filled by the party’s highest polling losers in electorates – or perhaps an American system of party primary elections could compile the lists.
Some American primaries are open to all voters in the state, others are restricted to voters who have registered with one of the parties. The restricted system could work for party lists under MMP. Candidates for the list could campaign for the support of voters registered with the party for a primary in each region before the election. They would be ranked for list seats in order of their total vote at the end of the primaries.
First of all, let me say that I reject the labeling of party-list candidates, however the list is determined, as party “appointees”. Those who enter parliament via the list are elected–directly elected, even–but via a different method. There is nothing inherently “more democratic” about elections via plurality or other “nominal-vote” rules, nor about open lists, nor about primary elections.1 Regardless of such arguments, however, are primaries in closed party list systems, including the list tier of a mixed-member system, a good idea?
I am skeptical, although at this point I do not have a fully formed idea about this. I am somewhat biased against primaries in list systems because of the experience of some Israeli parties, but political problems in Israel always seem to be somewhat, shall we say, overdetermined. So maybe primaries, per se, are not the problem.
In this context, it is interesting that today’s news has an article from Israel’s Ynet, “PM speaks out against elimination of Likud primaries”.
The Ynet article is without any context, and no other stories about proposals to eliminate primaries in the Likud have come through my news feed. The story quotes PM, and Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu as saying “The Likud used to [be] very centralized, and we decided to open it up. Today we have 130,000 people, instead of 3,000, deciding who will represent the movement”.
Do only 130,000 people participate in Likud primaries? There were 729,054 voters for Likud in the last general election. So that means that a selectorate equivalent to only around 18% of the party’s general-election constituency is effectively setting the lists. Yes, I recognize that 130,000 is a lot more than 3,000, but even 3,000 is a large (and thus at least potentially representative) body for a “centralized” process. Again, there is nothing inherently more democratic about having a self-selected minority of a party’s voters choosing its lists than there is of having a large conference of party delegates do the same.
I hope readers will offer some comments in favor of, or against, primary elections in closed-list PR systems, because this is an area of electoral systems and party organization where my thoughts are far from crystallized.
As for the possibility of having the “list” seats filled by the party’s highest polling losers in the districts, I have already addressed that. I put “lists” in quotation marks here, because strictly speaking, there are no party lists if all of the PR tier is filled in this way. [↩]
In a comment in the previous thread on potential political reform in Israel, Ed raised the point that the country’s party-system fragmentation is at least as much a product of Israel’s social diversity as it is of the electoral system. It is a sensible argument, inasmuch as the party system has grown steadily more fragmented over time, while the most important features of the Knesset electoral system have been unchanged. (The 1996-2001 period of direct election, also discussed in the comments to the previous thread, was quite likely a contributor to fragmentation in the 1990s, but fragmentation has not declined since the return to a pure parliamentary system.)
In the past two decades, Israeli society has become more plural than ever, as immigrants from the former Soviet Union have created a new cleavage that has seen the rise of a significant new party, Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home1 ), led by current Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman. And while there is no single party that represents the Sephardi/Mizrahi Jewish population (those whose disaporic roots are in other Middle Eastern countries), the Shas party, which draws a significant share of this community’s votes, has been growing since the early 1990s. So these developments seem to support the social-origins argument for Israeli party-system fragmentation over the electoral-system argument.
On the other hand, no clear social cleavage precipitated the creation of the Kadima Party, the launch of which by then-PM Ariel Sharon prior to the 2006 election was an even bigger contributor to the recent fragmentation than the growth of either Yisrael Beiteinu or Shas. And no new cleavage is clearly behind the stated intention of TV newsman Yair Lapid to form his own new party.2
Lkely none of these parties would have been as viable in the short run without such an extreme proportional system. Yet thanks to the seamlessness with which electoral support guarantees Knesset seats, Yisrael Beiteinu has grown from 2.6% of the vote in 1999 to 11.7% in 2009 and Kadima won 22% in its first election.3 Polls immediately suggested Lapid’s party could earn 15-20 seats, which would place it among the three largest parties in the country.
An extreme proportional system does not guarantee a proliferation of parties, but it makes proliferation feasible, whether due to new social groups mobilizing behind new parties or to existing public figures creating new electoral vehicles for themselves and their associates.
In fact, we can use a purely institutional theory to account for the degree of fragmentation facilitated by the electoral system. We can then attribute any deviation from the predicted value of fragmentation to other social or political factors. For example, in Predicting Party Sizes (Oxford University Press, 2007), Rein Taagepera derives the following equation:
Where N is the “effective” number of seat-winning parties, which is by now the standard measure of party-system fragmentation in the political science literature, M is the average district magnitude, and S is the assembly size. The product of the latter two indicators is what Taaepera defines as the Seat Product.
The equation is derived deductively. (That is, it is not a “post-dictive” regression equation, but rather is built as a “logical model” from sparse assumptions about how district magnitude and assembly size “should” affect the outcome variable of interest.)
The graph of this equation against the data (on p. 153 of the book) from two dozen long-term democracies shows a very strong fit to this model. However, it is important to note that the value of N that is plotted for any given country is its average value over several decades of elections, and not the snapshot of any one election, or a recent sequence of elections. Because Israel elects the Knesset from a single 120-seat district, M=S=120, and MS=14,400. Raising this to the exponent, 1/6, yields 4.93. The data point for Israel is almost precisely on line representing the equation reproduced above. Slightly below it, in fact.4
So the Seat Product equation tells us that Israel, known for decades as a diverse polity with numerous parties, has experienced just about the precise degree of party-system fragmentation that we should expect it to have, given its Seat Product. The implication of this finding is that changing the Seat Product, for instance by reducing the district magnitude, could be expected to reduce party-system fragmentation.
As noted above, Israeli fragmentation has been growing recently. In fact, the last three elections–those since the abolition of the brief phase of direct prime-ministerial elections–have had an average N=6.93. That is above the predicted value (which is close to the actual longer-term average, as noted) of 4.93. The recent elections exceed the Seat Product by just over 40%. This suggests that recent factors driving the formation of new parties are accounting for the extra “two parties” that the party system now “effectively” supports.5
What impact might electoral reform have? And here I mean serious electoral reform, but one that remains firmly within the proportional family. Not a small rise in the threshold, but also not a move to (or towards) a majoritarian system. Let’s suppose Israel adopted a system of districts, as a means to cut its Seat Product.
If the average magnitude of the districts were to be 30, which would still mean the average district in Israel would be around the size of the largest district used by some of Europe’s other fragmented party systems6, the resulting Seat Product would be 3,600. Plug that into the equation and you would have an estimate of 3.91–effectively one party less than Israel’s long-term average. However, if the current three-election average is 40% higher than the Seat Product prediction, we might realistically expect it to remain so even with a change to M=30. If so, then it might be at N=5.48–still a substantial reduction from where it is now.7
What if Israel went to an average magnitude of 10, which would result from carving the country into twelve electoral districts? Then we have a Seat Product of 1,440. This yields a prediction of N=3.36, and if Israel’s actual system remained 40% over, it might be around N=4.70.
Could the social divisions of Israel be so great that they would resist even a 90% reduction of the Seat Product, through the adoption of twelve districts? Perhaps, but if the effective number of seat-winning parties remained at its recent 6.93, that would be 106% over the predicted value. Only one country in Taagepera’s graph is anywhere near such an excess relative to prediction: Papua New Guinea. And I submit that PNG is a good deal more fragmented than Israel.8
Clearly social and political factors outside of the electoral system are responsible for the recent rise in Israeli party-system fragmentation. Yet the fact that the longer-term average for Israel–which it should be stressed already placed it among the more fragmented systems!–almost perfectly matches what Taagepera’s Seat Product predicts suggests that electoral reform could make an impact. Perhaps Israel has finally outgrown its 120-seat district, and it is time for a more modest proportional system.9
Yes, Israel Is Our Home; I regularly see news stories that translate the party’s name as “Israel Our Home”, which of course makes no sense in English. There is no linking verb in the Hebrew expression. [↩]
He is likely simply to compete for the same basic voting bloc that helped the rise of the new leader of the Labor Party and that which votes for Kadima. [↩]
Only Papua New Guinea has an effective number of parties far higher than predicted from its Seat Product, while Botswana, the U.K., and Spain are among the countries clearly on the low side (though not by large differences). [↩]
The “effective” number tells us how many hypothetical equal-sized parties would fragment the party system as much as the actual unequal-sized parties do. Thus it is incorrect to say, as some do even in the published literature–that it is a measure of how many “effective parties” there are. It is the number, not the parties it counts, that is “effective”. [↩]
This assumes no supra-district allocation; if there were such a compensatory procedure in place even after districting, it would really not be any different from the status quo, as allocation would be “as if” there were still one 120-seat district. [↩]
Plus, PNG’s fragmentation is localized, and hence capable of finding expression through the single-seat districts that PNG uses, and that make its Seat Product equivalent to its assembly size of 109. [↩]
By the way, the same argument could be made for the Netherlands, where N over the long term is likewise almost precisely where its high Seat Product says it “should be”, but where there has been a marked upward trend in N recently. [↩]
Israel’s Minister of Transportation, Yisrael Katz, says, “We will replace the governing system before the upcoming elections”, according to Ynet.
Having spent some months in Israel in 2010, partly to work on political reform proposals, I have some idea how tough a nut this is. So I don’t necessarily expect anything big to happen in the 21 months or less leading up to the next general election.
Areas of reform would supposedly include raising the threshold for a party to enter the Knesset, limiting the number of ministers and deputies, increasing the number of votes required to for a vote of a no confidence, and adopting regional elections.
Some of these are good ideas, some bad. For example, raising the number of votes needed for the Knesset to dismiss a government would, by definition, mean replacing the parliamentary system of government. If more than 61 votes (out of 120) are required, then a government could lose the confidence of a majority–the situation that would lead to a change of government or early elections under parliamentarism–yet remain in office.
If government originates from the parliamentary majority, but is not dependent upon it for its survival, then the regime is what I call assembly-independent, not parliamentary. This is one of the “mixed” systems, in that it does not have either “fusion” of both origin and survival (parliamentarism), not “separation” of both (presidentialism), but rather mixes and matches. So I have to say that it would be quite good for political science if Israel would do this, as the country has already had the opposite combination–separation of origin but fusion of survival–during the phase of directly elected prime ministers from 1996 to 2001. I could imagine writing some interesting papers! But I doubt such a system is a good idea for Israel. It seems it would reduce, rather than increase, accountability.
Raising the threshold, which is currently 2%, seems like a good idea. However, as always, even a good idea has its downside. It just so happens that some of the parties that regularly reside right around the current threshold are the parties that attract mainly Arab votes. For instance, Balad has hovered between 1.9% and 2.5% since 1999, the United Arab List 2.1% and 3.4%, and Hadash 2.6% and 3.3%. A threshold that threatens these parties (individually, and it is not a certainty that they would merge) is problematic, to say the least. If one wanted to force one of the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties, United Torah Judaism, to direct its votes to someone else’s list, the threshold would need to be as high as 5% (UTJ has had 3.7-4.7% during this time, with some upward tendency). So raising the threshold is not so simple, after all. Besides, even with a 5% threshold, the problem that Israel has as many as five parties capable of getting 10% but not any of them would necessarily get much over 30% in any given election, would remain.
The Israeli system needs reform, but what sort of reforms is not a straightforward question.
According to the report, [Likud leader and PM Binyamin] Netanyahu is pressing for a reform of the internal elections process in the party that would make it possible to set aside four spots in the list for external candidates. The general consensus among observers is that this step is meant to allow Barak to receive high placement in the list’s “top ten.”
If it happens, it would be Barak’s third party in about one year. He left Labor in order to remain Defense Minister when the party was about to vote to leave the coalition. In order to keep the ministership, he set up a new party called Independence. But polls suggest this new party may struggle to clear the threshold, so if he wants to remain as Defense Minister, he may need a lifeline from Likud.
What impact he may have on Likud, if he joins its list, is a subject of much internal debate. For instance, “Is he really an electoral asset? I think he is an electoral liability,” Deputy PM Moshe Yaalon was recorded saying.
The Labor (Avoda) Party of Israel is in the process of choosing a new leader. Its former leader, Ehud Barak, left the party with several other members of the Knesset some months ago in order to remain in the current Likud-led coalition. The majority of the party went into opposition, while Barak formed a new party within the coalition known as Independence (Atzmaut).
The contest is a two-round process in which its rank-and-file membership of around 66,000 is eligible to vote. About 44,000 members cast votes. If the leading candidate obtains over 40% in the first round, he or she is elected. If not, there is a runoff between the top two. From Haaretz:
After a relatively high voter turnout, the Labor primaries yielded inconclusive results on Monday, with Sheli Yachimovich and Amir Peretz at a near tie with 32% and 31% of the votes respectively, and Isaac Herzog trailing behind with 25%.
A recent Haaretz poll suggests the party could do quite a bit better than its current representation if there were a new general election: 22 seats if Yachimovich is leader, 18 if Peretz is.
The party won 13 seats in the last election, and currently has 8 seats after the Barak-led split. A poll at the time of the split had put Labor at 6 seats and Independence at 3 (see first link).
Haaretz commented, “Apparently, this is the first instance of a leader rehabilitating a political party by leaving it.”
The Los Angeles Times ran an interview on 28 March with Daniel Ben-Simon, one of the leaders of what is left of the Israeli Labor Party. His perspectives on the demise of this once-great party are interesting. He goes so far as to say it became a “Prostitution Party,” so much did it betray its principles in the pursuit of cabinet portfolios.
I found the most interesting aspect to be his comments on a possible merger with Kadima.
In recent years I have sometimes cynically commented that the Labor Party, once Israel’s dominant political force, had been reduced to little more than a vehicle for putting one of its leaders in the Defense Minister’s chair. From 2006 to 2009, it was Amir Peretz, under the Kadima-led government of Ehud Olmert. Since the 2009 election it has been Ehud Barak, in the Likud-led government of Benjamin Netanyahu.
Today’s developments suggest that my cynicism was well placed: given the choice, Barak will take the Defense Ministry over sitting in opposition. The Labor party has been in internal turmoil, in part because its relatively more flexible line with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict renders it an unnatural appendage to a coalition with little interest in the “peace process.” An upcoming Labor internal vote likely would have produced a decision to take the party out of the coalition, and possibly also dumped Barak as party leader.
Barak will remain as Defense Minister, now heading a new party to be called Atzmaut (Independence). He will be joined in the new party by Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, and MKs Shalom Simhon, Einat Wilf and Ori Noked. These remnants within the coalition will be enough to keep the government’s majority in the Knesset intact. Had the Labor Party bolted as a bloc, the government would have become a minority cabinet, and might have precipitated early elections.
Speaking of elections, Labor’s standing in polls has been sliding badly. A “breaking news” item at the top of the Haaretz website says that the remnant Labor would receive 6 seats and Atzmaut 3 were an election held now. Labor received 13 seats (out of 120) in February, 2009.
(Substantially extended from the original, with some personal observations from having lived in and walked around this general area.)
Confused by the Shepherd Hotel controversy that has burst (back) into the news this week? You should be. It is a confusing situation. Certainly not as simple as most of the voices in the media (of whatever position) make it seem.
If you want to cut through the confusion, read Yaacov Lozowick’s “virtual tour” of the area.
I know this area, although by no means intimately. But the maps and satellite views Yaacov posts include the area where I lived for about three months last year. One of the things that most struck me about this area, which is over the Green Line, is just how intermixed it is. The neighborhood in question, Sheikh Jarah, as well as where I stayed, French Hill, were both in the Jordanian-occupied zone from 1948-67 and are typically, if misleadingly, referred to in the media as “East Jerusalem.” In French Hill, the population is mostly Jewish (including a substantial community of post-1967 immigrants from English-speaking countries, as well as academics and staff at Hebrew University), but there is a large minority of Arabs. Both the Jerusalem municipality bus lines and the Arab East Jerusalem bus lines course through the area. (Yes, there are separate bus lines; one sees Arab passengers on the Jerusalem buses, but evidently not Jews on the Arab buses, and the company running the latter does not appear to have a website in either English or Hebrew, only Arabic.) A short walk southwestward from the Student Village in French Hill, where my University-provided accommodation was, one passes by Arab-run falafel shops and Arab houses, with some consular residences mixed in. Other apartment complexes in the area are mostly Jewish, including some Haredi (ultra-Orthodox). A walk towards the east takes one past Hadassah Hospital, at the entrance to which there is an Arab-run kiosk (cigarettes, ice cream, etc.) and a series of mostly Arab-populated apartment complexes on one side of the street and more HU student housing on the other side. The University student population is itself quite mixed. Sheikh Jarrah and French Hill blend in to one another, although Sheikh Jarah is clearly mostly Arab-populated. Right between these neighborhoods are the National Police HQ and several other government buildings, as well as some international hotels (where the staff seems mostly Arab) and consular facilities.
It is far from an ideal “integrated” set of neighborhoods, and tensions in Sheikh Jarrah have been high for some time. But my point (and Yaacov’s) is that it is misleading to see a sharp division between the “Jewish” and “Arab” cities of Jerusalem, as most media accounts suggest.
The idea of drawing a border through this region as part of a “peace agreement” mystifies me. I can’t see how it could be done, honestly.
The comment form is open–I think, and for how long, who knows.
Israeli firefighters say they have fully contained the fire in the Carmel mountains of Israel, the country’s largest wildfire ever.
Actually, the Haaretz headline and one statement within the article say “full control,” but the substance of the article makes clear that containment is what has been achieved. “The fire is still burning in some locations and the winds are still strong,” the firefighters’ operations officer is quoted as saying.
The main threat to Haifa and its suburbs has been warded off.
With the mass evacuations of some populated areas, this was beginning to seem all too like the firestorms that gripped San Diego twice in the last seven years. Fortunately, the worst of it now seems over. The weather, however, remains unusually hot for the season, and there has been almost no rain so far, despite the normal rainy season being well underway.
The government is no longer requesting further help from abroad.
Israel, which has a dry climate for much of the year like southern California, is woefully ill equipped to fight major fires. I was amazed at the prevalence of outdoor burning of trash when we were there in spring and summer–both around Jerusalem and in other places, especially (but not only) in Arab areas where public services like trash collection tend to be less well provided. Various reports have suggested that it was a trash fire in a Druze village that got out of control. And now much of the Carmel has been devastated.
Israel currently has about 1,300 firefighters available for operational duty, meaning one for every 6,000 residents. The average among Western countries is one firefighter per 1,000 residents.
I do not know what the figure is for southern California (or other fire-prone places like Australia), although at the time of the 2003 wildfires, the lack of preparation of San Diego was exposed. The County was somewhat better positioned to fight the 2007 wildfires.*
This is not Israel’s first major wildfire by any means. The just-linked article notes one in the Jerusalem hills in 1995, after which there was a government commission that noted the inadequacies of resources to cope with fires. Maybe this time they’ll actually do something to prepare for the next one.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4