Budget passes first Knesset reading

Opposition MKs boycott session due to "worsening of crisis, breaking rules of democracy."

reuven rivlin in seat 248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
reuven rivlin in seat 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Coalition members could scarcely hide their smiles as they wandered around the Knesset Wednesday evening after the opposition's boycott of Knesset proceedings turned what is usually a drawn-out budget debate into a perfunctory rubber-stamp vote. But beyond the satisfaction over the unexpected windfall - the opposition parties literally disappeared from committee hearings, plenum votes and debates - the first signs of dissent began to appear among coalition members. Some Likud MKs complained that Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin was not enabling the coalition to take full advantage of the opposition's absence. In a vote that was advanced from midnight to 3:30 p.m., the Knesset approved the first readings of the biennial budget and economic arrangements bill after only coalition members discussed the economic program from the podium. The budget was approved by a 61-0 vote, with four abstentions, while the economic arrangements bill was passed by a 60-0 vote, also with four abstentions. At issue are several electoral reform proposals, primarily the so-called "Mofaz Law" which would allow MKs disgruntled with their faction to break away and form a new faction with only seven MKs, rather than with one-third of their party. The law is seen as an effort to allow the more right-leaning MKs in Kadima, including former transportation minister Shaul Mofaz, to break away and join the coalition. The leaders of the opposition's Knesset boycott had announced earlier Wednesday afternoon that after a meeting to assess the situation, they would step up their war of attrition against the coalition by boycotting the session. The House Committee responded to the opposition leaders' announcement by moving forward the budget vote to Wednesday afternoon. The boycott of the budget debate, an unprecedented step by the heads of opposition parties, was taken - in their words - "in light of the worsening of the crisis and breaking the rules of democracy." "The serial trampling of the status of the Knesset and the attempt to legislate personal, political and corrupt laws is unbearable," said the opposition leaders, in a statement released following the decision. "In a country that does not have a constitution, there is a supreme importance to maintaining the parliamentary norms, and we are thus demanding that Rivlin return sanity to the Knesset and to immediately bring an end to this crisis." But according to some Likud MKs, Rivlin was already doing more than enough to make sure the opposition had a fair chance. At least one MK complained that Rivlin was preventing the coalition from taking advantage of the opposition's strategy and passing all of the controversial proposals while opposition members were in the lunchroom boycotting. Sources close to Rivlin said the speaker, who openly opposed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on a number of the bills that the opposition is protesting, said that he has been placed in the difficult position of "standing between Bibi and Tzipi and he has yet to find the formula that will help the two sides change their positions." In addition to the Mofaz Law, the so-called "Slomiansky Law" would add an additional five key committee votes for coalition parties by allowing one minister in each party to turn over their Knesset seat to the next person in the party list. Sources involved in the negotiations between the two factions said that while both sides are willing to bend on some of the controversial bills, neither will give in on the Mofaz Law. Earlier Wednesday, a plenum debate on Netanyahu's foreign policy was canceled after the opposition announced that although they had called for the debate, they would be absent from the floor while it took place. Netanyahu was slated to address the Knesset after being forced, through a petition signed by 40 opposition MKs, to discuss "the prime minister's confused policy." Opposition members also pulled their private members' bills - even those that had the support of the coalition - from the plenum's agenda. But while the opposition was willing to boycott proceedings Wednesday, they drew a line at the House Committee hearing and debate on the budget scheduled for Thursday. Opposition leaders said that its MKs would participate in the crucial committee hearing that was called following the budget vote, to decide to which committees would be portioned off pieces of the economic arrangements bill for debate.