Avigdor Lieberman 248.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Kadima and Israel Beiteinu disagreed on Sunday over the issue of holding direct elections for the prime ministerial post even as the two parties have said they would jointly work together to change the country's electoral system and promote the creation of a constitution.
Vice Premier Shimon Peres said on Sunday that direct prime ministerial elections "are a mistake." He added, "This would work only in a country with a two-party system. If we did it, we would be witness to non-stop coalition horse trading."
But according to media reports, Israel Beiteinu party head Avigdor Lieberman said Olmert had pledged his support for direct elections.
A spokesman in the Prime Minister's Office said that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had not publicly stated his position. What is significant is that Olmert is committed to making changes, said the spokesman. The exact details can be worked out as the bill is prepared in advance of a Knesset vote, he added.
Still as part of an agreement of support between both parties, worked out during a Friday meeting between Olmert and Lieberman, Olmert is expected to support Israel Beiteinu's bill for direct elections when it comes to the Knesset next week.
In so doing, he would be approving a return to the direct voting system, similar to the one that placed one of his chief rivals, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, in the prime minister's seat in 1996.
Israel Beiteinu, in turn, would support Kadima's bill in the Knesset that instead looks to strengthen the parliamentary system, keeping in place the election of the prime minister though a party system.
Israel Beiteinu faction head Estherina Tartman told The Jerusalem Post she believed that in the end of the day, Olmert's Kadima party would support the idea during a final vote.
"The facts speak for themselves," she said. Fifteen different governments have been voted in and out of office in the last 30 years, Tartman said.
"That's an average of two years per government," she added.
Her party would like to see the creation of some sort of presidential system with direct elections like that in the United States, even though in Israel it would not be limited to two parties.
But MK Menahem Ben-Sasson who heads the Knesset Law and Justice Committee told the Post he agreed with Peres. Direct elections only work in a two party system such as the United States but do not do well in a multi-party system such as exists in Israel.
Israel's government had changed its electoral system in the past so that the prime minister in 1996, 1998 and 2001 was voted in under a direct election system rather than a party one. Former prime minister Ariel Sharon successfully pushed to revert back to the former system in 2003.
While Ben-Sasson supports a Knesset with more members and less parties, he said he still believes that some six parties are needed to represent the various different segments of Israeli society.
To keep the numbers down, each party would have to have secured enough votes for four Knesset members before it could enter the Knesset. Tartman said that Israel Beiteinu would like that number to be as high as 10 Knesset members.
Both Tartman and Ben-Sasson, however, said they had faith that the differences between the two parties would be ironed out.
Both parties plan to submit bills in the first few days following the opening of the Knesset on October 15. Kadima's bill is being prepared by Ben-Sasson with the help of MKs Zeev Elkin and Amira Dotan.
Ben-Sasson said the bill he is drafting would look to increase the Knesset's size by some 40 MKs and would bar its members from simultaneously holding ministerial posts. It would also look at regional elections for MKs.
Overall, he said, he wants to strengthen the Knesset, fortify the connection between the citizen and their representatives, and give the government more options to govern.
Tartman said her party wants to strengthen the prime minister's authority so he can rule, make a clear division between ministers and the Knesset, and bring a certain amount of professionalism to that post.
Tartman and Ben-Sasson said that both parties would also support work on a constitution, a task on which the Law and Justice Committee is set to embark. It follows work done on that issue by the past Law and Justice Committee.
Separately, a committee formed by President Moshe Katsav is due within a few weeks to submit its report on electoral changes. It is also likely to recommend strengthening the parliamentary system rather than heading toward a presidential one with direct elections.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.