This accord is just sticking plaster on broken system

By Arye Carmon, May 10, 2012

David Cameron's administration is the UK's first coalition government since the war.

In contrast, Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition is Israel's 33rd. And he has to manage not one but six coalition partners.

The politics of survival led in 2009 to him establishing the largest cabinet ever, comprised of 30 ministers and nine deputy ministers.

Now, to avoid a snap-election originally planned for September, Mr Netanyahu has decided instead to form a mammoth coalition with Kadima, the main opposition party. He must seize this moment to enact badly needed political reform.

Once dominated by two large parties, Israel's political map has splintered. The current Knesset includes 12 parties. The ruling Likud holds only 27 of 120 seats (22.5 per cent). Under such conditions, the ability of any prime minister to govern is challenged.

Israel's legislative process has also been disrupted. Between 1999 and 2009, MKs, eager for publicity, flooded the floor of the Knesset with 14,000 private bills, only 6 per cent of which became law.

Not surprisingly, public trust in the political system has eroded significantly and anti-political sentiment is on the rise.

The decline of Israel's once effective system can be traced to 1996 when, in the absence of a constitution, the Knesset, with a simple majority, passed an ill-considered law to enable direct election of the prime minister. Splitting the vote between party and prime minister ended up destroying the large parties. Even after repeal of the law in 2001, the resulting damage remains and can no longer be undone without major reform.

The good news is that structural problems such as these are susceptible to structural solutions. There is hope for repairing Israel's parliamentary democracy if the heads of the major parties can muster the courage to enact political reform.

Large parties can be restored by raising the electoral threshold to enter the Knesset. The prime minister can be strengthened by giving the head of the largest party an automatic first right to form a government and by limiting no-confidence votes.

And citizens can be empowered by introducing regional representation, allowing them to rank candidates within party lists.

These are bold steps that require political courage. But backed by the largest coalition in Israel's history, the time to act is now.

Arye Carmon is the President of the Israel Democracy Institute

Last updated: 2:37pm, May 10 2012