Rivlin joins MKs in battle against electoral reform

MKs decry coalition deals calling for measure to raise electoral threshold, enactment of Basic Law: Israel as Jewish State.

Likud MK Reuven Rivlin (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
Likud MK Reuven Rivlin
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
Electoral reforms delineated in coalition agreements are a danger to democracy, opposition MKs said during a conference at the Knesset Tuesday.
In addition to opposition lawmakers like MKs Nachman Shai (Labor), Moshe Gafni (UTJ), Dov Hanin (Hadash) and Michal Roisin (Meretz), Likud MK and former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) participated in the conference.
Rivlin challenged the commitment in the coalition agreements to increase the electoral threshold to four percent.
“There is a reason the founding fathers decided that the electoral threshold should be low,” he explained. “The logic was to allow as many opinion and stances in Israeli society as possible to be represented in the Knesset, since we are so varied and divided. The Knesset prevented civil wars in the past, because of its ability to represent all of the opinions in the nation, and we must preserve that.”
In the previous Knesset, Rivlin was an outspoken opponent of coalition-sponsored legislation limiting freedom of expression and other rights, which some in the Likud said cost him his position as Knesset speaker.
Since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not express support for his reelection to the post, Rivlin denied two requests from the prime minister to meet, and does not have a position in the current Knesset other than MK.
“Netanyahu didn’t offer me another job, because he knew that he can’t insult a person and then tempt him with other offers,” Rivlin told Israel Radio on Tuesday.
The electoral reforms listed in coalition agreements with Yesh Atid and the Bayit Yehudi include limiting the number of ministers to 18 and deputy ministers to four, and not allowing ministers without portfolio. In addition, the deal calls for constructive no-confidence motions that require the approval of at least 65 MKs and does not allow an MK to transfer his or her election funding if he or she moves to another party.
The coalition agreements also call to pass Basic Law: Israel as the State of the Jewish People, which makes Hebrew the official language and states that Israel has a democratic government.
“We’re seeing clearly antidemocratic initiatives at the start of the 19th Knesset,” Shai said. “One major example is the return of a bill that shakes the foundations of Israel, the law declaring Israel a Jewish and democratic state.”
According to Shai, the legislation shows the coalition is power hungry and seeks to hurt minorities.
He added: “Israel doesn’t need a law like this, which can only harm Israeli democracy and its Jewishness.”
Later, when Shai brought up the issue in the plenum, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said she will not help along any attempt to disturb the balance between Israel’s Jewishness and democracy.
Hanin and Gafni focused on the electoral threshold, with the latter saying the opposition will not allow the government to behave aggressively and against the norms of the Knesset by passing electoral reforms quickly.
“Raising the electoral threshold endangers democracy,” Hanin said. “Small parties do not threaten stability. They do not have corrupt primaries. They do not bring people lacking values and principles into politics. The opposite is true.”
Earlier this week, Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center President Uriel Reichman and Dr. Arik Carmon, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, wrote a letter to Netanyahu and heads of opposition parties saying that the electoral reforms mentioned in the coalition agreements are not sufficiently far-reaching.
Reichman and Carmon recommended passing legislation to ensure the leader of the largest party become prime minister and allow regional elections to the Knesset, as part of their complete outline for electoral reform.
The first recommendation was part of Yesh Atid’s platform, but in the previous Knesset, Netanyahu was prime minister even though Likud had one fewer MK than Kadima.
Still, Carmon and Reichman say the change will lead the political field to move to two major parties, and is a “complementary reform to raising the electoral threshold, without which we expect there will be continued fragmentation of the map of political parties, exaggerated power for minor partners in the coalition and a harm in the governance ability of the elected government.”
Partial adoption of electoral reforms will not allow the government to deal with the current failures of the system and will not improve governance capabilities or increase stability, they added.