Rotem wins pyrrhic victory on electoral reform

Legislation would raise threshold, limit number of ministers; Yesh Atid, Hatnua intend to revamp bill.

David Rotem 370 (photo credit: Jeremy Sharon)
David Rotem 370
(photo credit: Jeremy Sharon)
Knesset Law Committee chairman David Rotem (Likud Beytenu) succeeded on Wednesday in passing a preliminary reading of his electoral reform bill in a stormy session of the Knesset plenum.
The bill passed in a 51 to 43 vote, but it must now pass in Rotem’s committee and two more times in the plenum before becoming law.
Yesh Atid and Hatnua MKs voted in favor, but shortly thereafter, they vowed to use their coalition veto power to change the bill completely before its final reading.
MK Ronen Hoffman – who is in charge of the electoral reform issue for Yesh Atid – said his party especially opposes a clause in the bill requiring a Knesset majority in order to submit a no-confidence motion. Hoffman said Rotem violated the coalition agreement by including the clause in the bill and that Yesh Atid would insist on dialogue in the rest of the legislative process.
Hoffman hosted a Knesset conference with electoral reform experts who took turns criticizing the bill.
At the conference, Hebrew University Prof. Avraham Diskin said electoral reforms must be made, but he vowed to “scream from every hilltop” against the 61 MK requirement for a no-confidence motion. Diskin also urged MKs not to raise the electoral threshold from 2 to 4 percent, as the bill proposes.
Environment Minister Amir Peretz told the plenum that his Hatnua Party – which polls indicate would not make it into the next Knesset even if the threshold remains untouched – opposes raising it.
Besides affecting no-confidence motions and the threshold, Rotem’s bill would limit the number of ministers – including the prime minister – to 19, and deputy ministers to four. It would extend the amount of time a new government is granted to pass a budget from 45 to 100 days.
“The way things work now with no-confidence motions that have no chance of passing dominating the Knesset’s agenda every Monday, we can all go to the beach on Mondays, because nothing substantial will happen here,” Rotem said.
“This precious time being wasted should be used on passing real legislation to help citizens.”
Former Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud Beytenu) violated coalition discipline by voting against the bill, which he said his conscience would not let him support.
“This electoral reform bill is a mark of Cain on the Likud’s forehead,” Rivlin said.
“[Former prime minister Menachem] Begin is turning over in his grave. This is the destruction of democracy. If it passes, we can just close the Knesset and call it only when requested by 61 MKs. Raising the threshold is wrong, because we should not prevent voices from being represented in the Knesset.”
Likud MK Moshe Feiglin also voted against it as an expression of his ongoing protest against being prevented from ascending the Temple Mount. Feiglin said he opposed the bill as a matter of principle – he would have voted in favor were he not rebelling against the coalition.
In the stormy Knesset session, opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) warned Rotem that if the bill passes it could prevent him from entering the next Knesset. She accused Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) of having “no shame,” noting that the Hatnua chairwoman was only recently opposition leader but now was advancing a bill that would cause great harm to the opposition.
“This bill is brutal, hypocritical, dictatorial chutzpah,” Yacimovich said. “Are you joking? If we had 61 MKs we would form our own government.
Think logically!” Meretz head Zehava Gal-On called the bill “a dictatorial step by a wicked government that is sealing the lips of the opposition” and “an anti-democratic step that would deal a death blow to Israeli democracy.”
But Health Minister Yael German (Yesh Atid) said at Hoffman’s conference that electoral reform was urgent in a country where the average government has lasted about two years.
“When I entered the Health Ministry, I started running, because I’m worried I will only have two years to get things done,” she said. “It makes it hard to advance an agenda and to govern. It is simply unhealthy.”