Satoshi Ikeuchi, Professor, Religion and Global Security, University of Tokyo
On June 2, a historic coalition deal was reached in Israel.
Yair Lapid, leader of the main opposition party Yesh Atid, had succeeded in seemingly impossible work of weaving together 8 medium and small-sized opposition parties into an broad anti-Netanyahu coalition.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s 12-year rule is finally coming to a close, at the time when the proposed cabinet is ratified by the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.
We learn a lot about democracy from Israeli coalition negotiations, both its positive and negative sides.
Democracy is Majority Rule:
It’s all about forming a majority bloc in the Knesset from an extremely diverse and mutually irreconcilable political forces.
Yair Lapid, leader of centrist Yesh Atid party struck a deal with hardline religious-nationalist Naftali Bennett in dividing their 4 years rule into two and rotate the position of prime minister, each for two years.
The coalition deal includes the centrist Blue and White party led by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the center-left Labor party, and the left-wing Meretz party, as well as nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party led by Avigdor Lieberman, the former defense minister.
Lapid, Bennett, Gantz and Liberman have nothing in common, except a crucial experience: taking ministerial position in the coalition government under Prime Minister Netanyahu.
The proposed new cabinet can be described as the coalition of ex-Netanyahu allies-turned foes, or coalition of the disappointed.
Mr. Netanyahu has made innumerable promises to the past coalition partners which were mutually incompatible but necessary for forming coalition governments. Eventually all coalitions have broken up and fallen, leaving deep distrust and disappointment on the side of ex-coalition partners.
Netanyahu seemed to have used up all the possible coalition partners and now are being taken over and replaced by them.
Democracy is Minority Rights:
It’s amazing that the final casting vote was in the hand of an Arab minority party’s parliamentarian Mansour Abbas, leader of the United Arab List party, who signed the coalition deal at the middle of the night, less than two hours before deadline on June 2.
Why the minority Arabs votes were so crucial in the Jewish majority state? That is enabled by the institutions of the electoral system.
Israeli electoral system is based on the most rigid proportional representation. In the party-list proportional representation electoral system, minority parties are over-represented and often have casting votes on crucial decisions like forming a government or ousting a prime minister, compared with the single-member plurality voting system of the UK Parliament or the US Congress, in which two major parties tend to dominate and monopolize power between them.
Proportional representation system could have side-effects.
Excessive multiplicity of minority parties in the parliament tends to result in weak and unsustainable governments and a political deadlocks, caused by the difficulty in satisfying extremely diverse demands of small fringe parties.
Israel politics has been undergoing this deadlock for two years and 4 inconclusive elections were held during that time. Mr. Netanyahu was compelled to govern in a tentative caretaker-like status, supported by fragile coalitions, between elections after elections.
In order to get out of the political quagmire, there might be a need for institutional reform. The reform of electoral system needs to be approved in the parliament. The parliamentarians, however, are elected in the existing electoral system and are opposed to any changes which endanger their reelection, thus prolonging and perpetuating the deadlock.