For an American living in Israel, there are many similarities, but a great many differences and even oddities, about Israel’s democratic process that leave one scratching one’s head. As the only true democracy in the Middle East, Americans are right to have an affinity for and kinship with Israel, but the democratic system is very different. One might say that Israel is a democracy on steroids. With Israelis set to go to the polls on January 22, it’s useful to understand about how Israelis vote, and how the process works. While in the US, one typically votes for a candidate affiliated with a specific political party, in Israel’s parliamentary democracy, one votes for a political party, each with its’ own internal process of selecting a slate of candidates to represent it. Some of these parties have democratic processes to select their slate of candidates, and others hand pick who they want in a less than democratic way, analogous to picking an all-star sports team, selecting players who (they think) will help them win.
In the upcoming election, 34 parties are vying for seats in the parliament (Knesset), whose 120 members are selected as a proportion of the vote that their party receives out of all the votes cast. Presumably all parties come up with optimistic lists of 120 members in the odd situation that they win all the votes. But the reality is that no one party is expected to win more than a third of the votes. None have ever won more than 50%.
However, in order to get in the Knesset, any party must pass a threshold of two percent of the votes. Any party that does not reach that benchmark, and most wont, don’t serve. Some say that the threshold should be raised to five percent in order to limit the often complicated issues of having more than a dozen political parties in parliment, each with their own parochial agendas, trying to propose and pass legislation.
This is my third election cycle living in Israel. Because ours is a parliamentary democracy, while a government does have a fixed term, any number of things can happen to initiate early elections as we did this year. This is actually the norm as no Prime Minister (PM) in recent years has ever served his or her full term. And, yes, Israel is also unique in having had one female PM, one female acting President, and two of the leading parties this year are headed by women.
When I first tried to describe the election process here, I described it as a three dimensional chess game, where two opponents play against one another, each planning his own (and projecting his opponents’) next moves that will impact the outcome of the game, but doing so with two other games taking place in parallel planes that you cannot influence, but whose moves impact the outcome of your game, and where your moves impact the outcome of theirs.
In more contemporary and seasonal terms, it’s like the Falcons and 49ers planning their upcoming NFC playoff game strategies while plays in the Ravens and Patriots AFC game also impact the NFC game, each play in the AFC playoff also impacting the NFC playoff, and vice versa, even before the two winners meet in the Super Bowl.
Full Article: Understanding Israeli Democracy | First Person Israel.