Netanyahu to push for absentee balloting, other electoral reforms

Attempt to remove presidential right to choose prime minister seen as aimed at Rivlin.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
November 29, 2015 18:39
2 minute read.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the National Building Museum in Washington

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the National Building Museum in Washington. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)

 
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took action on Sunday to encourage changes in the electoral system and to enable absentee balloting in Israel for the first time.

Netanyahu has supported absentee balloting for 20 years. He appointed Tourism Minister Yariv Levin to head two coalition task forces, one of which would lay the groundwork for absentee balloting and the other for other electoral reforms.

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“I intend to make changes that would guarantee political stability and enable the government to be able to be more productive,” Levin said. “I also want to allow Israelis abroad to vote with absentee balloting like most of the world and strengthen those citizens’ connections to the state.”

The guidelines of the current coalition back absentee balloting, despite the opposition of Kulanu.

Yisrael Beytenu supports the move from the opposition while Yesh Atid is vigorously opposed. Originally proposed by former foreign minister Moshe Arens (Likud), absentee balloting bills have been proposed in every Knesset by MKs from the Likud and Yisrael Beytenu, and in the last Knesset by Labor MK Nachman Shai together with Levin.

A bill proposed in July by MK Yoav Kisch, a former El Al pilot who traveled abroad constantly before entering politics, would limit absentee balloting to citizens who are on the Interior Ministry’s voting rolls and who voted in the previous election. This system would prevent those who have been abroad for many years or are not strongly connected to Israel from voting.

A study by the Central Bureau of Statistics in 2009 estimated that there are some 550,000 Israelis abroad, not including children of Israelis born abroad.

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The other electoral changes Netanyahu supports include making it harder to topple the government with a no-confidence motion and making the leader of the largest faction prime minister automatically.

Currently, the president is responsible for entrusting an MK to form a government.

Netanyahu’s support for the change is seen by opposition MKs as an attempt to harm President Reuven Rivlin, with whom he has sparred repeatedly. The prime minister’s associates have spoken about forming “an Israeli Republican party” that would combine parties on the Right, and Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog said he would form “an Israeli Democratic party,” though not call it by that name.

The prime minister asked coalition chairman Tzachi Hanegbi to advance the controversial “Jewish state bill.” A new, concise version submitted by MK Bennie Begin (Likud) says that, “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, based on the foundations of liberty, justice, and peace in light of the vision of the prophets of Israel and upholds equal rights for all its citizens.”

In addition, the proposal says Israel is a democracy. The final two articles of the bill say that the national anthem, flag, and symbol of Israel will be established in laws – as they already are – and that it can only be changed by a new Basic Law voted in by at least 80 MKs.

“The bill is especially important now when the identity of the state is being questioned,” Hanegbi said.

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.

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