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Electoral Reform Advances a Step As Four Bills Clear Knesset Hurdle

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Israel moved an inch closer this week toward reforming its electoral system, when the Knesset on Monday approved on first reading four bills whose main effect would be to institute direct election of the prime minister.

The rationale behind the bills is to free the premier from the lengthy and complicated coalition bargaining of the sort that has plagued the country now for more than two months since the national unity government collapsed on March 15.

Under the current system of proportional representation, the head of the party that is able to muster the most votes through elections and coalition deals becomes prime minister.

Most Likud and Labor members of the Knesset voted in favor of the legislation, choosing to ignore opposition from the smaller parties, which fear electoral reform will dilute their strength.

The National Religious Party was the only one of the four religious factions to support the legislation. And among the smaller non-religious parties, only the right-wing Tsomet and the center-left Shinui backed the four bills.

Shinui’s Amnon Rubinstein was pleased with the outcome of the vote. “This is truly a revolutionary step for Israel,” he said. “For the first time, we are beginning to relinquish a system which is totally bankrupt.”

The catch is that the bills were passed only on first reading, giving opponents plenty of opportunity to try to kill the bills in committee, before they make their way to the crucial second and third readings of the full Knesset.

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