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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Government passes new election law 67-0, law effectively does away with no-confidence votes

In a vote on the first of three bills that are to be passed between now and Thursday, the Knesset voted 67-0 to enact electoral reform.

I'll come back to the substance of the vote in a minute, but the JPost has accused the Knesset of stifling dissent because the manner in which the bills are being passed. It's important to look at why it's being done this way.
But it seems there is another reason for the government’s haste in pushing through the three bills before the end of the Knesset winter session on March 23. The parties making up the coalition are split on support for the three bills.

Members of the more zealously religious Tekuma faction in Bayit Yehudi and some other MKs in the party are sympathetic to the haredim and therefore oppose the use of criminal sanctions against yeshiva students who refuse to serve in the IDF. Tekuma, which is considering running on a separate list in the next elections, also opposes the bill to raise the threshold for getting into the Knesset.

Meanwhile, members of Yesh Atid and Hatnua oppose the referendum bill, designed to put another obstacle in the way of a government asked to vote on a territorial compromise with the Palestinians in a peace deal. And Yisrael Beitenu MKs are disgruntled that the draft law does not obligate Arab Israelis to perform national service.

To overcome these points of dissent, the heads of all the parties making up the coalition have been asked to sign a document committing their MKs to vote in favor of all three bills as a single package deal. Coalition heads fear that if the votes are delayed until after the Knesset break is over, the shaky arrangement that was cobbled together might fall apart and one or more of the bills will not pass.

There is nothing unlawful about this sort of parliamentary wheeling and dealing. The coalition is permitted to speed up the legislation process, particularly ahead of a looming deadline like the one facing the Knesset, in order to pass a bill. Coalition parties regularly strike quid pro quo deals, where one party agrees to support the legislation of another party on condition that this support is reciprocated.

But the conflation of both of these tactics is a bit much, particularly when the bills up for discussion are so controversial and when their passage is far from time sensitive.
For the first bill, at least, the coalition held. But then, you wouldn't think it would be so controversial to raise the threshold for getting into the Knesset from 2% of the vote to 3.25% (minimum three MK's to minimum four MK's), would you? I thought this bill ought to be a slam dunk. Aside from the threshold, it limits the number of cabinet ministers to 18 and the number of deputy ministers to four, and gets rid of the title "Minister without Portfolio." That's all good because ministers cost millions of Shekels. So what's bad in this bill? This:
The new law also requires the opposition to form an alternative government and appoint an alternate prime minister as a precondition for submitting no-confidence measures.
The current opposition consists of the left-wing Labor party, the further left-wing Meretz party, the Haredi parties and the Arab parties (who may have a hard time making the threshold unless they unite). What are the odds on those disparate groups reaching an agreement on an 'alternative government'? Given that no Arab party has ever been in the government and that the Haredim and  the Left have agreed on very little over the last 35 years, I would say that the odds are quite poor. So essentially, there are no more no-confidence votes.

Given that we vote for parties rather than individuals, the coalition parties will be strengthened by this measure and 'Israeli democracy' will become even more distant from its constituency than it is already.

None of that bothers Avigdor Lieberman. He thinks that the opposition has to humor him by showing up for the vote rather than going on vacation for three days of futility.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday denounced the opposition as a group of "whiners, post-Zionists, and terrorist representatives" in response to its decision to boycott the Knesset vote on a bill which limits the number of government ministers and raises the minimum vote threshold for parties to win representation in parliament.
What could go wrong?

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At 9:52 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl -

It borrows the "positive of no confidence" found in the Federal German Basic Law.

Basically, a government can only be voted out if the opposition can agree on a replacement.

It was designed to avoid the weak and unstable federal governments during the Weimar period that contributed to the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis as chancellor.

It should strengthen Israel's government by forcing the opposition to offer an alternative, not merely to vote against the government in power. That should make Israel's notoriously short-lived coalition governments a good deal more stable and prone to serve out their entire term in office.

The new 3.25% percent threshold is way too low. Germany has 5% and Russia has 7%. A better threshold would be 4%, which would get rid of the many small parties in the Knesset.

Its a baby step towards a two or three party coalition government system but its better than the status quo.

At 8:51 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

According to Arutz Sheva, votes of no-confidence will still be allowed a minimum of once a month, and only if there was already one of these votes that month, would an alternative need to be presented. That doesn't sound so terrible to me...

I am worried about the 3.25% threshold. What if the Jewish Home decided to freeze out Tkuma in the next elections, knowing they didn't stand much of a chance getting in on their own? i.e. the way they froze out Eldad in the previous election.


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