Israel leads democracies in number of elections held since 1996 — think tank

Israel Democracy Institute: Including upcoming Knesset vote, Israelis have gone to polls on average every 2.3 years in past 24 years

Ballot boxes at the Central Election Committee to be sent to polling stations ahead of election day, March 6, 2019. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)
Ballot boxes at the Central Election Committee to be sent to polling stations ahead of election day, March 6, 2019. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)

As the Knesset dissolved Tuesday night, triggering a fourth round of elections in two years, the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) research center said Wednesday that it appears the Jewish state is now the liberal parliamentary democracy that has held the most national votes in the world since 1996.

The March 23, 2021, vote will be Israel’s 11th Knesset election since the May 1996 vote in which Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister for the first time.

That means the country has since had an average of less than 2.3 years between elections.

According to Prof. Ofer Kenig, a research fellow at IDI, no other liberal parliamentary democracy has held elections that frequently.

The IDI released a graphic comparing Israel to 20 other countries, with only Greece coming close to the Israeli figure. Greeks have had 2.5 years on average between elections during that same period.

Following in the list are Spain and Japan with an average gap of 3 years. Ireland has been holding elections much less frequently (every 4.5 years), as has Italy (every 4.4 years).

A graphic released by the Israel Democracy Institute on December 23, 2020, comparing the average period between elections since 1996 among liberal parliamentary democracies. (Israel Democracy Institute)

Speaking with The Times of Israel, Kenig said he only checked the figure for developed, democratic countries with a parliamentary system similar to Israel’s — excluding for example the United States, which is a federal republic.

He also excluded countries where the law mandates that elections must be held at least every three years, such as Australia and New Zealand. Also not included were smaller countries such as Luxembourg.

At any rate, none of those countries surpassed Israel’s tally.

Kenig contended that the countries he checked were enough to conclude that no major parliamentary democracy has held more elections than Israel over the last 24 years.

Prof. Ofer Kenig of the Israel Democracy Institute (Courtesy of IDI)

“This unfortunate reality is the result of a combination of a deep-seated crisis of governance compounded by the unbearable ease with which early elections can be called, while at the same time we have a prime minister who has ensured that the public interest is held hostage to the leader’s personal considerations,” Kenig said in the statement, referring to widespread accusations leveled against Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption in three cases.

“When it comes to the average time in office for prime ministers, we are actually close to the top in comparison to other parliamentary democracies,” Kenig added. “Prime Minister Netanyahu’s long tenure in power places Israel in 6th place.

“However, of course this sense of stability is illusionary. While the prime minister has remained in office, the political system has suffered from high levels of instability for the past decade.”

The IDI concluded: “This political instability has proven once again how vital electoral reform is for Israel.”

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