MKs are grounded as 61-seat coalition struggles to survive

Shaked: This coalition is difficult. Kahlon takes a stand against Netanyahu on ‘Sa’ar bill’.

Gideon Saar (photo credit: Courtesy)
Gideon Saar
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Knesset leadership told MKs to cancel their trips abroad in light of the 61-59  proportion between coalition and opposition as of this week.
The Knesset has a long list of bills on its agenda for Wednesday, including three opposition proposals to dissolve the Knesset. If the dispersal bills are approved, they would not immediately trigger an election because they would only pass a preliminary vote at that point and would still require three more readings.
Wednesday’s Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference could play a key role because 10 MKs are expected to speak at the event, throwing off the delicate balance between coalition and opposition since Avigdor Liberman quit the Defense Ministry and pulled Yisrael Beytenu from the government last week.
The opposition hopes to trip up the narrow coalition, which needs all of its lawmakers present in the house to pass laws, so the sides reached an agreement to ground the Knesset; all official trips abroad for MKs are off. Opposition coordinator MK Yoel Hasson also refused to authorize any agreements between lawmakers on opposite sides of the aisle to offset each other’s absences. As a result, on Monday night, the opposition voted down a government-sponsored bill, and the coalition pulled most of its bills from the Knesset agenda.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked expressed skepticism about the coalition’s chances of survival at a conference at Bar-Ilan University on Tuesday.
“It will be difficult with 61 MKs,” Shaked said. “Yesterday my bill fell… which was agreed upon by everyone. We think it’s hard [to keep a narrow coalition intact] at the end of a term, but the prime minister decided he wants to try, so we wish him luck.”
Shaked said she and Education Minister Naftali Bennett backed down from their ultimatum that the latter be appointed defense minister because “we thought it’s not right for the country to go to an election now. Sometimes political battles fail. You don’t always get what you want.”
Asked if she sleeps better at night with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as defense minister, Shaked responded that it was a trick question.
The narrow coalition showed internal strain, with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon refusing to have his Kulanu party support a bill requiring the president to appoint a party leader to form a government after an election.
Kahlon told Netanyahu Monday evening that he will not support “any bill or Basic Law that does not support the economy.”
The legislation, known as the “Gideon Sa’ar bill,” is a priority for Netanyahu, who expressed concern last month that there is a plot for President Reuven Rivlin to appoint another MK – probably Sa’ar, a popular former Likud minister – to form the next government. Both Rivlin and Sa’ar denied hatching such a plan, with the latter calling it slander and the former’s office saying the idea is the product of a paranoid mind.
Currently, the president can choose any elected Knesset member to be prime minister and form a coalition. Historically, presidents have only chosen party leaders. Kahlon is the only coalition partner who did not back down from his call to hold an election as soon as possible after Liberman resigned.
Kahlon predicted this week that the next election will take place in March – meaning the government will not stay intact for more than another six weeks – argued that a coalition with a one-seat majority is open to extortion by backbenchers and is destabilizing for the economy and the country.
Netanyahu, however, sought to delay the election, and managed to bring Bayit Yehudi to his side. He and Kahlon plan to meet again to discuss the matter.
The Sa’ar bill was supposed to go to a vote in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation two weeks ago, but was delayed because of disagreements in the coalition over its contents.
Coalition chairman David Amsalem (Likud), who proposed the bill, wanted to put it on Sunday’s ministerial agenda, but may hold off in light of Kahlon’s position.