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Reform Bill’s Chances Fade As Knesset Sits Through Night

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The chances of an electoral reform bill becoming law seemed to fade Monday, as Knesset members braced for an all-night marathon debate on the controversial legislation.

The proposed legislation, which the Likud leadership opposes, would allow for direct election of Israel’s prime minister.

Its prospects seemed to weaken Monday, when the National Religious Party said it would support an amendment requiring an elected prime minister to obtain the Knesset’s support for his Cabinet.

Previously, at least two of the NRP’s five Knesset members had pledged to support the unamended bill.

Passage of this — or any other amendment — would send the bill back to the Law Committee for further consideration. That would be tantamount to a death sentence for the legislation, which committee Chairman Uriel Lynn kept bottled in committee as long as possible.

The particular amendment favored by the NRP would effectively “castrate” electoral reform by keeping the premier dependent on the approval of the small parties, said Knesset member Haim Ramon of the Labor Party, which backs the bill.

Media reports said Monday that another pivotal grouping, Finance Minister Yitzhak Moda’i’s three-member Party of the Zionist Ideal, was conditioning its support of the bill on an effective guarantee of Moda’i’s political future.

Moda’i’s party broke away from Likud during the rambunctious deal-making following the 1990 collapse of the national unity government.

According to the reports, Moda’i asked Shamir to support a proposal that would redivide the Likud into its Herut and Liberal component parts for the purposes of electing a slate of Knesset candidates. Moda’i feels this would give him a good chance of re-establishing his strength in the Liberal Party.

Shamir himself brushed aside suggestions Monday that he opposed the bill because, in the words of Labor’s Yitzhak Rabin, he was “afraid of taking on Rabin in the court of democratic opinion.”

“I am quaking with fear, can’t you see?” Shamir jested with reporters.

He pointed out that Rabin had yet to win his own party’s candidacy against incumbent party leader Shimon Peres.

“If and when he does, we’ll see if I am afraid,” Shamir said.

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