A Cooling-Off Period for a Prime Minister and Breakaway Knesset Factions: Qs and As

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There are no provisions for limiting the tenure of prime ministers in parliamentary democracies such as Israel, and any new rules must be objective and not made to satisfy political needs

Flash 90

 

Dr. Amir Fuchs and Dr. Assaf Shapira

Are there precedents for a cooling-off period for former prime ministers before they can be re-elected to parliament?

“There are no provisions for limiting t the tenure of prime ministers in parliamentary democracies such as Israel, and certainly not for a cooling-off period before they can be re-elected to parliament.”

To what extent would a cooling-off period be proportional?

“To bar a person who has completed two terms as prime minister from being reelected to the Knesset for a period of four years would strike a severe blow at the right to vote and stand for office. It is not justified and is disproportionate, certainly with regard to such a fundamental democratic right. Clearly it has been floated only with regard to a particular person, and as such is problematic, as is all personal legislation.

What about term limits for the prime minister?

“This is a complex issue. As noted, there are no precedents for term limits in a parliamentary democracy, and the mechanisms proposed to date in Israel are liable to be detrimental to stability and governance. In particular, term limits undermine the principle of accountability, in that voters are not able to reward or penalize prime ministers serving their last term in office. Nor is there any empirical proof that term limits curtail corruption (there are even arguments that they escalate it). On the other hand, such legislation would diminish the prime minister’s power, which has increased very much in recent years, and encourage competition and turnover in the government, which are important democratic principles.”

As for splits of Knesset factions, what damage could result from this in the future? How does it affect the stability of the Knesset and the political system?

“Knesset factions are already splitting too much. We saw this clearly in the previous Knesset, when Blue White, Labor-Gesher-Meretz, and Yamina all broke apart shortly after the Government was formed. Of course it is hard to predict whether and who will break away, given the rule that requires a minimum of four Knesset members to secede from their faction in order to establish a new one. It is clear, however, that such legislation could encourage the splitting of factions and increase the overall fragmentation of the Knesset.”

“When Knesset members split from their faction, they are undermining public trust in politics—both because voters cast their ballot for a united faction, and also because the public is apt to think that the move was prompted mainly by personal motives, such as a ministerial portfolio. An excessive number of factions in the Knesset and the Government, interferes with the Knesset’s operation, the capacity for governance, and the stability of the Government.”

If the Knesset is so fragmented today, should some other change be made?

“The appropriate change would be to make it more difficult for factions to split, especially joint electoral lists that can split today without any penalty. We propose barring the break-up of factions for at least the first six months after a Knesset takes office—including joint electoral lists that dissolve into their components and breakaways by a third of the members of a faction.”

In conclusion “Once again we are facing an attempt to change the rules of the political game to satisfy specific needs, with no objective justification. It is very reminiscent of the “Mofaz Law” which was sponsored by the Likud in 2009 in order to make it possible for Shaul Mofaz to secede from Kadima and bring along seven Knesset members to join the Netanyahu government.

Dr. Assaf Shapira, is the head of the Program for Political Reforms at the Israel Democracy Institute

Dr. Amir Fuchs, is a senior researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute

 

 

Are there precedents for a cooling-off period for former prime ministers before they can be re-elected to parliament?

“There are no provisions for limiting the tenure of prime ministers in parliamentary democracies such as Israel, and certainly not for a cooling-off period before they can be re-elected to parliament.”

To what extent would a cooling-off period be proportional?

“To bar a person who has completed two terms as prime minister from being reelected to the Knesset for a period of four years would strike a severe blow at the right to vote and stand for office. It is not justified and is disproportionate, certainly with regard to such a fundamental democratic right. Clearly it has been floated only with regard to a particular person, and as such is problematic, as is all personal legislation.

What about term limits for the prime minister?

“This is a complex issue. As noted, there are no precedents for term limits in a parliamentary democracy, and the mechanisms proposed to date in Israel are liable to be detrimental to stability and governance. In particular, term limits undermine the principle of accountability, in that voters are not able to reward or penalize prime ministers serving their last term in office. Nor is there any empirical proof that term limits curtail corruption (there are even arguments that they escalate it). On the other hand, such legislation would diminish the prime minister’s power, which has increased very much in recent years, and encourage competition and turnover in the government, which are important democratic principles.”

As for splits of Knesset factions, what damage could result from this in the future? How does it affect the stability of the Knesset and the political system?

“Knesset factions are already splitting too much. We saw this clearly in the previous Knesset, when Blue White, Labor-Gesher-Meretz, and Yamina all broke apart shortly after the Government was formed. Of course it is hard to predict whether and who will break away, given the rule that requires a minimum of four Knesset members to secede from their faction in order to establish a new one. It is clear, however, that such legislation could encourage the splitting of factions and increase the overall fragmentation of the Knesset.”

“When Knesset members split from their faction, they are undermining public trust in politics—both because voters cast their ballot for a united faction, and also because the public is apt to think that the move was prompted mainly by personal motives, such as a ministerial portfolio. An excessive number of factions in the Knesset and the Government, interferes with the Knesset’s operation, the capacity for governance, and the stability of the Government.”

If the Knesset is so fragmented today, should some other change be made?

“The appropriate change would be to make it more difficult for factions to split, especially joint electoral lists that can split today without any penalty. We propose barring the break-up of factions for at least the first six months after a Knesset takes office—including joint electoral lists that dissolve into their components and breakaways by a third of the members of a faction.”

In conclusion “Once again we are facing an attempt to change the rules of the political game to satisfy specific needs, with no objective justification. It is very reminiscent of the “Mofaz Law” which was sponsored by the Likud in 2009 in order to make it possible for Shaul Mofaz to secede from Kadima and bring along seven Knesset members to join the Netanyahu government.