Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Knesset is back in session and there was much activity this week. I spoke on religion and state but I'll write about that another time. Now I want to briefly discuss the two bills for restructuring the political system that were supported by the government this week. First, I should point out that neither of these is going to pass any time soon. Nevertheless, they've generated much discussion and from the distorted reports on them in the media it's apparent that few people have actually read the texts of these proposals.

In this post I'll summarize the content of the laws and in the next one I'll analyze their advantages and flaws.

Avigdor Lieberman's proposed law strengthens the Prime Minister. It's main points are:

1. The Prime Minister is directly elected.

2. The winning candidate must get 50% of the votes. If no candidate manages that, there is a runoff between the top two candidates.

3. Elections for the Prime Minister are tied to Knesset elections. Whenever there are Knesset elections there are elections for Prime Minister. In rare circumstances, 80 MKs can force new elections for PM without Knesset elections.

4. Either 61 MKs or the PM himself can force new Knesset elections and hence new elections for PM.

5. The PM can choose his own ministers without obtaining Knesset approval. However, 70 MKs can depose a minister.

6. An MK cannot simultaneously serve as a minister. (Around here this is called the "Norwegian Law".)

7. The PM has expanded war powers and emergency powers.

8. The minimum threshold for a party to be represented in the Knesset is 10%.

The first four were tried already in the past. The other four haven't been tried yet in Israel.

So much for Lieberman's proposal. As part of the deal for the government to lend its support to this proposal, the government also agreed to support a proposal by (Kadima MK) Menahem Ben-Sasson that contradicts Lieberman's proposal and is much less dramatic in terms of the changes to the system. Here are its main points:

1. As is the case now (and unlike Lieberman's proposal), there is no separate ballot for Prime Minister. The head of the largest party automatically gets first shot to form a government.

2. The Knesset can bring itself down or, alternatively, can bring the government down with the support of 70 MKs. (Now 61 are enough for each of these.)

3. When a voter chooses a party, he can also specify a preference for particular candidates on that party's list. A candidate's final ranking on his party's list is determined as the average of his ranking by the voters and his initial ranking in the party's list.

4. Norwegian Law.

Both of these plainly contradictory proposals purport to increase the power of the voter and to stabilize the government. The second one isn't as bad as the first but both would wreak havoc. I'll explain why in my next post.

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