Malkin: Reviving sortition, first within the parties

Elections in Israel are in the offing again. Prof. Irad Malkin, a professor of Ancient History in Tel Aviv University and winner of the 2014 Israel Prize for history, again offers sortition to the readers of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:

Lottery instead of voting, like in Athens

In these days, in which parties are preparing for elections, especially in view of the increase of the electoral threshold, an exhausting process of political fighting, deals, backstabbing and ideological infighting can be expected. Even if a new party is formed and wins seats in the Knesset, residues of bitterness and animosity that have accumulated during the formation struggle will remain. This problem can be solved – greatly shortening the process and dissolving the conflicts in advance – by adopting a mechanism that was used in ancient Athens, the city that gave us democracy.

In the Athenian democracy people were selected by lottery to most positions in the executive, religious and judicial organization. […] The difference between oligrachy and democracy, say Aristotle, is that oligarchy has elections while democracy has the lottery.

Modern democracy gave up on lottery and it is paying the price of low civic participation and the growth of alliances between government and capital and of lobbying groups whose power keeps increasing, creating a widening gap with the people, the demos, where sovereignty, kratos, is supposed to be held.

The lottery may be revived perhaps first through the parties themselves. The increase of the electoral threshold causes small parties to try to form unified lists. The leading personalities within each party are known and therefore, when merging two parties, each party will “contribute” the names of five candidates to a pool of ten names. The ranking of the first ten names in the list to the Knesset (like the ranking of the next ten names and so on) will be determined by lottery, not through power struggles.

The lottery principle, that can be applied to primaries in the major parties as well, includes reshuffling of the system (preventing permanent power centers) and mostly equality – not of outcome but of opportunity and accessibility.

5 Responses

  1. Interesting. Thank you for posting this.

    There are too few electable positions on a list for statistical significance to come into play. Ordering lists at random would just assign handicaps to parties at random.

    I’m rather fond of the idea of “democratizing” parties, so to speak, and setting out their internal structures in constitutional law. In other words, recognizing their significance and treating them like integral political institutions in their own right. Political institutions that can be created by a large enough group of voters if desired. One need only look at party primaries here in the US to see how internal party structure can affect the political system. One could fight the “iron law of oligarchy” at the party level. To the extent such a thing exists and is applicable here, of course.

    In any case, compiling closed lists by sortition makes no sense. Open lists, or a two-step process with party members being drawn into lists and the lists being ordered by a citizen’s assembly… would be more workable. You still have the problem of excluding the party’s leadership.


  2. I also don’t find Malkin’s idea to be convincing. In my mind once we had narrowed the pool of candidates to “leading figures” we have already accepted an oligarchical system.


  3. And if it weren’t narrowed down to leading figures? Would you consider an open list system with candidates drawn randomly from each party’s membership (which would always be open to anyone) to be oligarchical?


  4. So anyone could join any party and have an equal chance of finding himself on the list? That sounds pretty good to me. Voting then becomes nominal since all lists would be essentially the same – each being a random sample of the population.


  5. Well, if the lists are open, voting would still end up deciding who ends up winning from the small pool of allotted candidates.


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