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Fate of Electoral Reform Bill in Doubt After Irregular Vote

The fate of Israel’s electoral reform bill grew murkier than ever this week, when a controversy erupted over voting irregularities on a key section of the legislation.

The dispute emerged after the Knesset voted Tuesday night on Section 3 of the bill, which provides for direct, nationwide election of the prime minister. Under the current system, the prime minister is usually the head of the party that wins the most votes in Knesset elections.

The outcome, as initially tabulated, was a 57-57 tie, meaning that the measure would fail. But there were seven abstentions, meaning the total came to 121 votes — one more than the number of seats in the Knesset.

Examination of the voting record showed that the “nay” vote of Agudat Yisrael Knesset member Avraham Verdiger was counted twice Without his second vote, the measure would have passed 57-56.

Nevertheless, Knesset Speaker Dov Shilansky, whose Likud party opposes the measure, refused Wednesday to declare the result void. He was relying on the Knesset rules, which stipulate that once the speaker has announced the results of a vote, they are binding.

Following the vote late Tuesday night, the Knesset postponed further discussion and a vote on the remaining sections of the bill until Monday.

Several irate Knesset members said that unless Shilansky recanted his position and declared the bill to have passed, they would seek the intervention of the High Court of Justice.

NETANYAHU DEFIED LIKUD LEADERSHIP

In the roll call vote Tuesday night, a voice responded “against” when Verdiger’s name was called by the clerk of the Knesset. But this was forgotten when, at the end of the roll call, Verdiger said he had not been called. He asked Clerk Shmuel Jacobson to count him as against the section, and the clerk obliged.

Verdiger strongly denied voting twice. He said he was dozing when his name was read and did not know that a negative vote had been registered under his name.

Jacobson surmised that another legislator had answered on Verdiger’s behalf, which is against the rules.

On the Likud benches, Binyamin Netanyahu was the only Knesset member to defy party leadership and vote for the measure.

Netanyahu said on Wednesday that he would fight to remove amendments tacked on to the bill, which he said water down the measure. One such change requires the prime minister, though directly elected, nonetheless to win the approval of a Knesset majority for his Cabinet.

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