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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Efforts to initiate direct, regional elections for half the Knesset received a significant boost this week when Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin announced that he would push for this change, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
Three-fourths of the last Knesset supported the move, but it was blocked by a veto from Shas on orders from the party's mentor, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Any party in the coalition has the right to veto changes to the Basic Laws.
Advancing such a change would be harder now because Knesset Law Committee chairman David Rotem of Israel Beiteinu opposes direct, regional elections, unlike his predecessor, Kadima's Menahem Ben-Sasson, who strongly advocated the move.
But Rivlin said he saw a unique opportunity to make the change.
"We need half the Knesset elected regionally," Rivlin said. "This is the correct path.
"In the past, the Likud could not propose such changes, because the haredim held the balance of power. But now the floating vote constitutes some 50 mandates. If we put changing the political system and fixing a national malady first among our priorities, we can accomplish it."
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 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.
Even though Kadima won one more Knesset seat than the Likud in February, Rivlin said that had the law been changed before the election, many right-wing individuals would have voted for the Likud instead of one of its satellite parties, and Binyamin Netanyahu would have still become prime minister.
Rivlin criticized Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman's support for a presidential system of government, which he said would eliminate any possibility of political compromise and leave Israel "with someone we can't get rid of."
He hinted that the time to advance direct, regional elections could come soon, adding that it was a mistake to enact direct elections only for prime minister, as happened in 1996. The change was repealed in 2001.
"When there were direct elections for prime minister, there were two different powers in the Knesset and the Prime Minister's Office, and it was a cacophony that failed," Rivlin said. "It strengthened sectarian parties and made it more difficult to govern. The prime minister has had to devote too much effort to staying in power, rather than governing. That must change, and we will make sure it will happen."â€¢