Party Primaries as Collective Action with Constitutional Ramifications: Israel as a Case Study

Eyal Benvenisti


In 1992, Israel underwent a major constitutional reform, which provided Israel, for the first time in its history, with an effective system of separation of powers between the political branches of government. This reform was not intentional but, rather, a byproduct of the voluntary adoption by the two major political parties of open primaries as the method for choosing candidates on their lists for election to parliament (the Knesset). The adoption of the primaries system produced two major changes in the Israeli constitutional and political order. First, it transformed the Knesset into an independent body and, hence, for the first time in Israel’s history, provided for a functioning system of checks and balances between the legislature and the executive. Second, it shifted power from the Jewish religious minority to the secular majority and even contributed to the increase in the relative power of the Arab parties. On a more general level, the Article demonstrates the impact different modalities of pre-selection of party candidates can have not only on the outcome of the elections and on the relative power relations among the parties, but, more importantly, on the structure and the functioning of the political system. Once proven, this impact requires public attention: legislative regulation of the pre-selection process may be required, indeed even constitutionally mandated, to ensure political checks and balances.

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