Israel goes to vote (yes, again…)

 

David Ben-Gurion, an outlier in the Israeli political statistics (among other things) (source: Wikipedia)

On the 17th of March 2015 Israel is going to vote for the 6th time in the 21st century. Even if we discount the 2001 prime ministerial election, that is still a very impressive rate of voting. Parliamentary elections were held in 2003, 2006, 2009, 2013 and, as mentioned, will be held in 2015. Not only are elections held frequently in Israel, the coalitions are forged and re-forged during the parliament’s term, so that more than one cabinet during a parliament’s term is not rare in Israel – record holder is the 2th Knesset (the official name of the Israeli parliament) that has seen no less than 4 cabinets. In the 66 years of Israel’s existence the country has had 33 governments!

Terms of the Israeli governments in years since 1949

Duration of the terms of the Israeli governments in years since 1949

All this chair-dancing means that every time Israel goes to vote (which is rather frequently) the by now familiar cry over the instability of the Israeli democracy is heard. The rapid occurrence of elections is supposedly a sign of the breakdown of society and the dysfunction of the political system. Are frequent elections really that bad? It is true that no Knesset has seen the end of its formal term, so all elections in Israel have been early elections. But that is a sign of stability in itself – it is by now a rule, and a rather strict one, since it knows no exceptions yet. Besides, what sort of stability is desirable? Iraq under Saddam Hussein was rock-stable. In Russia and North Korea elections are held and parliaments serve their terms to the minute, but are these examples of functioning democracies? And in the USA, a president can only be removed from power before the end of his term by death (Nixon is an exception that underlines the rule). Does this mean the political system in USA works well? Stability of government is not a goal in itself in a democracy. On the contrary, a government that can be removed by peaceful means if it has lost the trust of the public, despite formal terms or other barriers, may be what makes a democracy.

Terms of the Israeli parliaments since 1949 (without the last one, the trend line would be flat)

Duration of the terms of the Israeli parliaments since 1949 (without the last one, the trend line would be flat)

Besides the semantics we have the statistics. And an unbiased view of the history of government in Israel tells a rather surprising tale. The long-term trends are clear. Despite all the crises (and there have been A LOT), elections in Israel are not much more frequent. The last parliament’s term was a short one, but otherwise the trend line would be a flat one. Also, the average term a coalition government survives is growing, albeit slowly. The only indicator showing a clear downward trend is the length of the term of a PM. But even this one has a catch. The first (and third) PM of the State of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, has been an exceptional figure in many ways, including his political role. If we exclude him from our statistics, as an obvious outlier, the trend of a PM term becomes flat – meaning that on average, the length of the term in office of a Prime Minister in Israel has been stable for decades.

Length of term in office of Israeli PM's since 1949 (black dotted trend line excludes David Ben-Gurion)

Length of term in office of Israeli PM’s since 1949 (black dotted trend line excludes David Ben-Gurion)

Does this mean Israel has a healthy, functioning political system? Probably not, but then again, who does? To me, this means only that there are many ways to look at the political situation, and the conclusions you draw will probably depend mostly, if not solely on your assumptions. But the way I see it, is that things are by far not as bad as some would have you believe.

*All data is from the website of the Knesset:
https://www.knesset.gov.il/description/eng/eng_mimshal_res.htm
https://www.knesset.gov.il/govt/eng/GovtByMinistry_eng.asp

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