Ben-Sasson: No chance passing reform to elect some MKs regionally

"There is no majority for a regional element, After talking to almost all 120 MKs, I think it is safe to say it has no chance of passing."

ben sasson 88 (photo credit: )
ben sasson 88
(photo credit: )
There is no Knesset majority for proposals to elect at least some MKs regionally, Knesset Law Committee Chairman Menahem Ben-Sasson told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. Ben-Sasson (Kadima) is leading efforts by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government to implement a series of changes in the electoral system. The reforms are expected to pass in the committee by the end of March and in the full Knesset by the end of May. But Ben-Sasson said electing MKs regionally would not be one of them. "There is no majority for a regional element," Ben-Sasson said outside an Israel Democracy Institute forum in Jerusalem on changing the electoral system. "After talking to almost all 120 MKs, I think it is safe to say it has no chance of passing." Electing half of the Knesset regionally was one of the main recommendations of President Moshe Katsav's Commission for the Examination of the Structure of Governance in Israel, which was chaired by the president of the Hebrew University, Prof. Menachem Magidor. The commission recommended that 60 MKs be elected from 17 constituencies based on the Interior Ministry's districts and subdistricts. The 17 constituencies would have two to five MKs each, according to the number of inhabitants. "I didn't expect that it would be easy to pass this reform," Magidor told the Post. "We recommended what was right, even though most of the Knesset wouldn't like it. Such a substantial change would bring about a shift of power and a real change, and that's why the opposition is so great. But I still hope that enough public pressure would bring about this change." A poll conducted two weeks ago on behalf of the Citizens Empowerment Center in Israel, an organization that facilitated the commission's work, found that 61 percent of Israelis support a constituent system. Several members of the Magidor Commission refused to endorse its recommendations because of the section that called for electing MKs regionally. Others only backed the recommendations because they believed there was no chance of implementing the clauses, and some said they favored adding a regional element to the process of electing MKs, but in a different manner. Israel Democracy Institute president Arik Carmon said he backed a proposal supported by many commission members that would have called for multimember constituencies while keeping the current element of proportionality, a system used in Denmark, Sweden and Finland. This view was endorsed by Sunday's keynote speaker, Arend Lijpahrd, professor emeritus at the University of California at San Diego and a former president of the International Association of Political Scientists. "The proportional system allows a feeling of inclusiveness," Prof. Naomi Chazan, a commission member who opposed Magidor's recommendation, told the forum. "The moment you harm proportionality, it could collapse what is left of political solidarity." All the participants at the forum favored strengthening the Knesset and its ability to oversee the functioning of the executive branch. But they were divided about what measures needed to be taken. Several participants spoke in favor of the so-called Norwegian Law, which would make ministers and deputy ministers quit the Knesset automatically upon their appointment and return if they leave their post. Former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) told the forum he opposed the Norwegian Law because it would reduce the Knesset's power without fixing the problem of former ministers who return to the Knesset and have lost interest in parliamentary work. He also warned that the new MKs who would join the Knesset thanks to the law could then repeal it, preventing the ministers from returning to the legislature if they quit the cabinet. "I have seen many former ministers who refused to work in the Knesset, who simply lost their will to work, and the Norwegian Law won't fix that," Rivlin said. He called for adopting the Canadian system, in which ministers come together to parliament once a month to answer questions from the members. He said the best way to improve the effectiveness of the Knesset was that "the public has to pick better MKs."