Coalition consensus growing for ‘Omri Casspi bill’

Electoral change committee discusses adopting American-style presidential system allowing Israelis living abroad to vote.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
February 14, 2011 03:09
3 minute read.
Omri Casspi.

omri casspi 311. (photo credit: AP)

Representatives from the six coalition factions will meet at the Knesset on Monday to discuss possible changes to the electoral system, such as adopting an American-style presidential system, enacting direct regional elections and allowing Israelis living abroad to vote.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decided to appoint his close ally, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, to head the electoral change committee, which met several times but made no progress when it was headed by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman.

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Sources close to Netanyahu said the timing of the committee, reconvening for the first time in several months, had nothing to do with the nearby regimes falling and the political change sweeping the Middle East. They did, however, hint that it had something to do with the fact that the State Attorney’s Office was expected to make a decision by the end of the month about whether to indict Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has pushed for electoral changes in the past and needs accomplishments for his Israel Beiteinu Party.

“There was, indeed, pressure from Lieberman, but the Likud also has an interest in making changes,” a source close to Netanyahu said.

Senior Likud officials said that out of the three issues set to be raised, the most likely change was the so-called Omri Casspi bill, which would allow some Israelis abroad to vote and which is named after the Sacramento Kings player who is the first Israeli to play in the NBA.

They said the least likely change would be the enactment of direct, regional elections for part of the Knesset.

The coalition agreement requires that there be a vote on enabling Israelis abroad to vote, but the same agreement gives every faction veto power over changes in the electoral system. Shas has threatened to use its veto to oppose a bill allowing Israelis living abroad for more than two months to vote.

The Likud had proposed allowing Israelis living abroad for five years to vote.

The main opposition to the bill in the past, aside from Shas, came from Labor, which has since left the coalition.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s Independence faction may end up supporting the bill.

“If pushed, we would consider allowing Israelis [living] abroad for only year or two to vote,” Independence faction head Einat Wilf said. “But it is so complicated, it could be an administrative nightmare to separate Israelis abroad. It doesn’t seem entirely worth it.”

Enacting a presidential system is strongly supported by Israel Beiteinu and backed by many MKs in Likud, but is opposed by Shas and the Independence faction. Netanyahu’s own opinion on the matter is unknown and may be revealed by cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser at the meeting.

A bill promoting direct, regional elections for at least a third of the seats in the Knesset was supported in the last Knesset by Likud, Labor and Kadima. But now the latter two parties are in the opposition, and a majority of Likud MKs oppose the direct, regional election bill that was sponsored in the last Knesset by then-Likud faction chairman and current Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar.

Shas chairman Eli Yishai, Knesset Law Committee head David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) and Wilf are the strongest opponents of direct, regional elections in the Knesset.

Kadima faction head Dalia Itzik supports making the change. Itzik complained that opposition factions were not invited to the meeting.

“We are worried that instead of dealing with serious issues like enacting direct, regional elections, the committee will merely allow yordim to vote,” Itzik said, using a pejorative word for Israelis living abroad, meaning “those who go down.”

“Considering changes in the political system is important, and there is no reason not to coordinate it with Kadima,” she said.


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