Wednesday, January 18, 2006

the (sucky) legitimate government of Israel

I've been reading a number of "right-wing" blogs that are trying to delegitimacize the current government in Israel. The basic idea is that since the public voted for the Likud and not Kadima and kadima only has 13 knesset members then Kadima had no right to take the prime ministership (and government ministeries...) with them. The ideas are based around the fact that the current government sucks, is a minority, and is going against the ideas of the people who voted for them. People also feel that the Likud should have retained the prime ministership after Sharon dropped out instead of going to Olmert. These are nice and interesting ideas and reflect the ignorance that people have of the political process.

Even though the government might suck, it is quite legitimate. As we've mentioned before democracy does not equal morality. In a democratic Palestinian society, where the government votes to destroy Israel (or even in an Athenian democracy with a referendum of all the people) , that would not nullify their status as a democracy. It would mean that they are bad people who vote for bad things. We should then hope that our elected representatives order our army to wipe them out first.

What they're missing here is that if any other person in the Knesset could have gotten 60 MKs to support him then he can take over the prime ministership. The leadership of the country has less to do with who's in charge of any specific party as much as who can pull a majority together.
As such, after the public voted for their favorite parties to be MKs the MKs then vote on who becomes prime minister. A no confidence vote win is when 61 or more MKs vote that they do not support the government anymore. At that point either the government falls and there are new elections within 90 days or someone else can come up with 61 or more supporters and the President will appoint him prime minister.

Nobody voted for the Likud to head the government. Knesset members voted for Sharon to head the government. Sharon appointed Olmert as his replacement, as stipulated by Israeli law. He could have appointed anybody he wanted from any party, including Shimon Peres.
If another member of the Likud had the support of 61 MKs and the leader of the Likud didn't, then that person, not the party, would have taken over the government. If a party with 2 MKs (I think that's the minimum) could make enough deals to get enough support, then they would be prime minister.

The Likud tried to make a deal with Labor offering the prime ministership to Amir Peretz, but he refused to play ball (a dumb idea from his perspective, in my opinion, but probably very good for Israel as a whole and society at large).


stillruleall said...

You should send a copy of your article to our new Foreign Minister Livni. she has been quoted every hour (or at least the 3 I heard today) saying that the PA is not a democracy since they allow a terrorist organization to run for elections, and democracies dont do that.

JoeSettler said...

We are having new elections because Sharon no longer had majority support in the Knesset.

But there was no no-confidence vote because instead Sharon quickly called up Article 29, and amidst the political chaos, the President dissolved the Knesset (and whether that was all done properly is another very serious question).

At this point, the law states that the standing PM remains at the head of the caretaker government until new elections.

But the law never considered that the standing PM would break away from his party and no longer be the head of the 1st 2nd or even the 3rd largest party.

And furthermore, since Sharon is considered a PM who resigned, he can no longer be removed via a no-confidence vote, and thus legally remains the undisputable PM (except by G/d) until the elections.

As for building a new majority, I am not sure that is legally possible once Article 29 has been invoked, so it wouldn’t matter anyway (but as this wasn’t tested there is no way to know for sure).

By very slickly manipulating unanticipated deficiencies of the law, Sharon positioned himself as non-deposable until the elections.

Despite being the head of a rather small party, he sidestepped the crisis by buying himself enough time to manipulate things further and position himself in the cat-bird seat once elections rolled around.

But more importantly, Sharon managed to gather incredible authority around the position of PM by establishing that “executive” cabinet votes are enough to make some very serious decisions even without Knesset backup, in part because there is no true system of checks and balances (or even a real division) between the legislative and executive branches in Israel. So even then, without anything close to a majority whatsoever he continued to rule autocratically.

And now we have Olmert, taking advantage, again through the same unintended applications of the law, following in his footsteps.

As you correctly pointed out, there is a big difference between legal and ethical/moral, and there is a big difference between working within a democracy and manipulating it.


L'havdil (and this get people upset when it is mentioned, and I am 100% not comparing the individuals involved), Hitler got himself and his Nazi party unanimous power by manipulating the rules legally within the laws of his democracy.

Specifically, and initially, by legally outlawing the Communist party (for the protection of the people and the state). It was only a short step from there, with his newly created majority that he eventually removed all competing parties.

The similarity is that the concepts and rules of democracy are about as ingrained in Israelis today as it was in Germans back then.