The Knesset Law Committee on Sunday approved raising the electoral threshold from 2 to 4 percent, fueling bitter criticism from opposition MKs, who decried the move as a threat to democracy.
Should the electoral threshold be raised, the future of smaller political parties, notably including Arab parties, that barely pass the current 2% minimum, would be in jeopardy. According to the current system, any votes that are cast for a party that doesn’t reach the threshold are discarded, meaning they wouldn’t be applied to any other parties either.
The proposal is part of a larger bill that was introduced in May by MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beytenu). The Law Committee has already passed other electoral reforms, such as capping the number of ministers to 19 and limiting no-confidence motions to once a month.
The legislation committee debate on the clause lasted several hours before passing by a vote of 7-6. The proposal is expected to be brought to the full Knesset plenum for a reading, along with other electoral reforms, later this week.
If the threshold in the January 2013 elections had been at 4%, only eight parties would have made the cut, as opposed to the 12 parties that are represented in the current Knesset.
Israeli-Arab MK Jamal Zahalke, who heads the Balad party, said the law “would destroy the independence of Arab representation in the Knesset,” and said it “stinks.”
Dov Khenin, the leader of the left-wing Hadash party, also blasted the move.
“History will judge those who help democracy, and those who hurt it,” he said. Directing his comments to the Likud-Beytenu members of the legislature, he said they were taking part in a process “that shouldn’t be occurring.”
Uri Maklev, from the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, also lambasted the move, calling it a a plan put forward by Yesh Atid to “disempower minorities.” He went on to call it a “hypocrisy of the part of large, established parties.”
Avraham Diskin, a political scientist at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was quoted by Channel 2 as saying that many Israelis have traditionally not voted for parties that they support ideologically out of fear that their votes would be wasted if the party did not pass the threshold.
“Raising the threshold pushes voters to strategically vote for blocs, and not honestly voting for a (particular) party,” said Diskin. In such a torn society, I do not want to exclude the ultra-Orthodox and Arab (parties).”
On the other hand, Gideon Rahat, of the Israel Democracy Institute, supported raising the threshold, but only gradually.