JERUSALEM (Sep. 12)
Four Knesset members of various political hues have consolidated their individual bills for electoral reform into a single measure calling for the direct election of the prime minister.
The combined bill was introduced in the Knesset Law Committee this week, becoming the first attempt at reform since the Likud-led coalition government took office in June.
But there is strong opposition from groups that fear the proposed changes could lead to a dictatorship.
The Knesset members, Uriel Lynn of Likud, David Libai of Labor, Yoash Zidon of Tsomet and Amnon Rubinstein of the Center-Shinui Movement, introduced separate reform bills in March.
Each passed its first reading in the Knesset, but dropped out of sight after the Likud-Labor unity government fell on March 15.
The four parliamentarians joined forces to hammer out a single bill, which they hope will have a better chance of scaling the remaining Knesset hurdles.
But Dr. Arye Carmon, head of the Israel Institute for Democracy, calls it “one of the most dangerous bills ever prepared in Israel.”
Carmon, himself a longtime campaigner for electoral reform, warned, “If the bill passes in letter and spirit, it may prove to be the means for a dictator to be elected in entirely democratic elections.”
The four sponsors rejected such alarms Tuesday at a symposium in Tel Aviv. They pointed out that while their bill would grant the prime minister wider powers by reducing his dependence on coalition partners, the Knesset would be given broader powers to balance them.
A THREAT TO DEMOCRACY?
The reform bill would require the Knesset to ratify international conventions and incorporate them into the legal code.
Parliament also would have the authority to summon the prime minister and other civil servants to testify before its committees, as the U.S. Congress now does.
A no-confidence vote by a minimum of 70 Knesset members would be sufficient to oust a prime minister. The Knesset also would be empowered to dismiss any other minister. And it would have the power to supervise the state budget and cut the budgets of ministries that exceed them.
Approval by the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee would be required before the government could declare war.
The sponsors stressed their measure would free the Knesset majority from the disproportionate power exerted by political minority groups and defectors, exemplified by the haggling that preceded the present coalition government.
Finally, the Knesset would retain the right to dissolve itself and call for new elections.
But Carmon, who believes that the leader of the largest political bloc should automatically become prime minister, claimed the proposed bill would introduce “presidential elements which may damage the very foundations of democracy.
“I don’t believe that our fragile and sensitive democracy should serve as an arena for dangerous experiments,” he said.