(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin received praise from electoral reform advocates on Sunday for announcing a new campaign pushing for the enactment of direct, regional elections for half the Knesset.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post published on Friday, Rivlin revealed that he had been in touch with retired judges about heading a new public advocacy group to push for electoral reforms. He said that besides direct, regional elections, he would also lobby for the enactment of a constitution in the near future, and for the leader of the largest party to automatically become prime minister.
Labor rebel MK Ophir Paz-Pines said he was overjoyed that Rivlin endorsed direct, regional elections for lawmakers. Paz-Pines proposed a bill to enact the change in the last Knesset together with Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar and then-Kadima MK Menahem Ben-Sasson, but it was never brought to a vote due to Shas's opposition.
"A majority of the people want this change to be made," Paz-Pines said. "The fact that the Knesset speaker will now be pushing for this bill is impressive and could greatly increase its chances of passing.
"If the bill passes, the Knesset will be more connected to the people."
Elaine Levitt, who chairs the Citizens Empowerment Public Action Campaign, wrote Rivlin a letter offering him the support of thousands of citizens who signed a petition calling for direct, regional elections.
"Support for this among the people is really overwhelming," Levitt said. "Thousands of people signed the petition. But they started giving up hope. Only the Knesset can really have an impact."
Ben-Sasson, who headed the Knesset Law Committee in the last Knesset and is now president of the Hebrew University, said he had continued promoting electoral reform from outside the legislature, and that Rivlin's support will give the effort a big boost. He said it also had the backing of Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and he hoped Rivlin would persuade the current Law Committee chairman, Israel Beiteinu's David Rotem.
"It's only natural that the speaker of the Knesset lead the push for regional elections," Ben-Sasson said. "It's a good time to do it, because there aren't elections around the corner. If the public calls for it loud and clear, I am sure the Law Committee chairman will advance it."
Shas spokesman Roy Lachmanovich responded that the bill would not pass without the support of Shas, which like other coalition partners, has veto power over any bill that would change the Basic Laws, which are intended to be the forerunners of a constitution.
"Any change in the Basic Laws that will not be done with dialogue will not be advanced," Lachmanovich said.