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The Likud bloc is under pressure from one of its coalition partners to push an electoral reform bill through the Knesset.

Agriculture Minister Rafael Eitan, leader of the two-seat Tsomet party, threatened Monday to pull out of the government “immediately” unless a free vote is allowed on the measure.

But there is strong counter-pressure within Likud’s Knesset faction to kill the proposed legislation, on the grounds that it could cost the party votes.

Haim Corfu, a veteran Likud Knesset member, predicted a loss of up to 10 seats for Likud if the reform bill becomes law.

The measure provides for the direct election of the prime minister on a separate ballot. Its proponents believe the winner would thereby be unencumbered by the smaller parties when trying to form a governing coalition.

But Corfu warned a Likud faction meeting that the party would lose the votes of far right-wing sympathizers who support Likud now only to block a Labor-led government.

Under the proposed new system, they could split their vote between a Likud prime ministerial candidate and one of the marginal parties of the far right, like Tsomet, he argued.

The reform bill is before the Knesset Law and Constitution Committee, where it is proceeding at a normal pace, according to the committee chairman, Uriel Lynn of Likud.

Supporters have launched a vigorous campaign to get the measure out of committee and onto the floor this month, before the parliament adjourns for summer recess.

On Monday, activists spread a huge painted sign in support of their cause across a hilltop overlooking the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway.

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