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Knesset Passes Surplus Votes Bill After Bitter 18-hour Debate

The Labor Party and the Gahal opposition faction, acting in concert early today, mustered a 75-20 Knesset vote to pass the controversial surplus votes bill that will benefit the large parties at the expense of the smaller ones in future Knesset elections. The vote was taken at 7:30 this morning after 18hours of parliamentary wrangling, filibuster and heated debate in which the small parties, ranging from the Rakah Communists to the right-wing Orthodox Agudat Israel, fought desperately to defeat or at least amend the measure.

The bill, presented jointly by Laborite Avraham Ofer and Yohanan, Bader, of Gahal, would allow the major parties to pick up surplus votes–those won by a party in excess of the requirement for a given number of Knesset seats. It becomes effective as law in next October’s national elections and may well eliminate one or two of the smallest factions, weaken others and provide the Labor Alignment and Gahal with a few additional seats in the next Knesset.

The measure has been widely criticized in the Israeli press. Many Labor MKs remained silent or defended it only halfheartedly against the verbal assaults of small party MKs last night and this morning. But when the final vote came, all of them dutifully raised their hands in favor of it and defeated the amendments proposed by its opponents. Premier Golda Meir, flanked by some of her closest Cabinet colleagues–Deputy Premier Yigal Allon, Justice Minister Yaacov Shimshon Shapiro, Foreign Minister Abba Eban and Minister-Without-Portfolio Israel Galili–sat stolidly through the stormy session which began at mid-day yesterday. She said little, however, and refused to reply to a scathing attack on herself by Shmuel Tamir of the tiny Free Center faction.

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