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Rally for Electoral Reform Draws Thousands of Israelis

Israelis made clear their disgust with current politics and disdain for the politicians at a giant rally for electoral reform here Saturday night.

Between 100,000 and a quarter-million people filled Malchei Yisrael Square outside City Hall and overflowed into side streets, to hear speaker after speaker condemn the way the Knesset is chosen and to propose changes.

They carried banners addressed to Knesset leaders and members reading, “We’re Fed Up With You” and “You’re All Corrupt.”

According to one police official, it was the largest public gathering in Israel’s history, surpassing the Peace Now rally of 1982 against the Lebanon war.

That was supposed to have brought out 400,000, a figure admitted later to have been exaggerated. The police therefore no longer issue official crowd estimates.

For all their fervor, the massed voters kept remarkably good order, as speakers railed against the horse-trading and bribery that has occurred during the last three weeks, as Labor has tried to put together a new government and Likud has determined to block it.

The speakers included three high-ranking Israel Defense Force reserve officers — whose two-week hunger strike outside the Knesset building in Jerusalem rallied thousands to the cause of reform — as well as the mayors of major cities, of both Labor and Likud.

But while all agreed that reforms arc necessary and inevitable, different ways were suggested to effect change.

Col. Avi Kadish, one of the three Jerusalem hunger strikers, called for the replacement of proportional representation by a constituency system.

Instead of casting ballots for a party with a prescribed list of candidates, the public would vote for candidates individually, who would then be accountable to them.

The prime minister would also be elected by direct ballot. Under the existing system, the candidate who heads the list of the party that garners the most votes automatically becomes prime minister.

The reformers arc also calling for a written constitution.

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