Primary Problems

Kadima’s idea of doing away with the electoral process, may be legal, but it is also completely immoral and undemocratic.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on January 17, 2006.)

The Likud primary is a good example. At the poll, central committee members are required to list 15 names. The ranking obtained by counting the number of votes received by each candidate is manipulated by the introduction of special reserved slots: for representatives of various arbitrarily defined geographic regions, for women candidates, for new immigrants, for younger members, and for minority candidates, which places them ahead of candidates who received more votes but who are summarily placed in lower slots to make room for them. The result is usually not truly representative of the voter’s wishes.

The candidate receiving the most votes under this system is not likely to be among the leading personalities of the party, but rather somebody who is viewed by them as non threatening and has therefore not been blacklisted by their supporters. Those leading personalities will instruct their supporters not to include among the 15 names those whom they see as competitors, thus pushing non-threatening candidates to the top of the list.

This was the good fortune of Moshe Kahlon in the recent Likud primary. He is, no doubt, a worthy candidate, and may some day be one of the leaders of the Likud, but he is not quite there yet. In the present Knesset, the Likud MKs who obtained their seats via the reserved slots were not the Likud’s best MKs, which marred the Likud’s image in the public eye, and those arriving via the reserved slots managed to push to the back some of the more prominent and active Likud MKs.

This is obviously a poor system, and not very democratic at that. Reserved slots should be abolished, or at the very least minimized, and a second round in which the voters are asked to rank the more popular candidates individually would be a significant improvement. The reason these clearly desirable improvements were not introduced is the Likud leadership’s fear of antagonizing some central committee members who represent certain particular interests.

The inflation of the size of the central committee in recent years, and the entry into the central committee of new members who have no particular affinity for the party’s policy positions but are instead pursuing their own or their relatives’ interests, have in effect frozen the electoral procedure for Knesset candidates. At the same time, it makes the dispensing of civil service jobs a primary condition for success in the primary election.

Under the circumstances, removing from the hands of the central committee the election of the list of candidates, and asking all registered members of the party to participate in a country-wide election process is probably preferable.

But the leadership of the newly invented Kadima party believe that there is a better system yet: do away with the electoral process entirely, and let the leader of the party make up the list of candidates, picking and choosing as he sees fit.

He has the added advantage of being able to offer members from other parties places on the Kadima list. They, in turn, impressed by the pollsters’ predictions of the large number of Knesset seats Kadima will obtain, find it hard to resist the temptation. Some of the rejects from other parties’ primary election have a second chance on the Kadima list. But the story does not end here. Kadima members can also influence the list of candidates of competing parties, and this is what happened in the Likud primary. A few hundred Kadima members who had previously been members of the Likud Central Committee decided to participate in the internal Likud election, to influence the composition of the Likud list.

All this may be perfectly legal, but is, of course, totally immoral and undemocratic. Whether this behavior by a collection of politicians – lacking respect for elementary democratic values, motivated in no small measure by opportunistic considerations, and offering the public no indication of their party platform – will enjoy the support of a significant portion of Israel’s electorate will be an important test for the citizens of Israel on March 28.

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