Bumpy week ahead for Sharon

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will face three separate threats that could topple his government.

sharon alone in knesset (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
sharon alone in knesset
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The week ahead in the Knesset has grown increasingly rocky for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who will face three separate threats that could topple his government. Of the five ways in which a government may be dissolved, and early elections called, Sharon will face three this week. Early elections can be called if: • An MK submits a bill to dissolve the Knesset and it passes by a simple majority of those present. • A special no-confidence motion is submitted which indicates a specific candidate to replace the prime minister. • The Knesset fails to pass a budget by March 31 of the following year. • The prime minister asks the president to dissolve the Knesset. • The prime minister passes away. Of the above, Sharon will face the first two this week, while the third is slowly gaining traction. MKs Zevulum Orlev (National Religious Party) and Yitzhak Levy (National Union) submitted bills Wednesday to dissolve the government. If they pass, the Knesset will disperse and elections will be called in 90 days. These bills pose the most direct threat to Sharon due to pressure from recently elected Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz. Since his victory, Peretz has voiced repeated calls for the dispersion of the Knesset. Labor faction chairman Ephraim Sneh said Sunday that the Labor party's central committee would make a decision for how Labor MKs were to vote on the bills Wednesday. If either of the bills pass due to the support of Labor MKs, aides to Sharon hinted that the prime minister might punish them by dismissing Labor ministers from their posts. Meanwhile, Meretz-Yahad has submitted a no-confidence motion against the government for its defense policies. Although no-confidence motions are often submitted, and occasionally passed, they are not likely to yield fruit. For a no-confidence motion to topple a government it must be passed by more than 61 MKs, and be accompanied by a specific request to have another candidate take the place of the prime minister. MK Zahava Gal-On, chairwoman of the Meretz-Yahad faction, suggested to Sneh Sunday that Amir Peretz be presented as a prime minister candidate in the motion. Sneh, however, rejected that proposal. Other parties, though, have indicated that they will submit no-confidence motions this week. If such a motion were passed, the Knesset would dissolve, and the newly elected prime minister would take office in 28 days. Finally, Sharon faces difficulties over the looming budget vote. While the budget does not provide an immediate threat to Sharon, the Knesset has fallen behind schedule for approving a 2006 fiscal schedule. Finance Minister Ehud Olmert (Likud) was expected to give a formal reading of the budget this week and open discussion that could lead to a first vote, but he has yet to submit such a request. "It is unusual for it to take this long for a finance minister to open discussion on the budget," said a Knesset spokesman. "But these are chaotic and unusual times." If the budget passes the first vote, it moves to the finance committee, where changes and additions are made. In the past, the first vote has been considered procedural and a logistic step for moving the budget to the committee, where the real deliberations take place. This year however, various MKs have suggested that they would not allow the budget to pass that vote, therefore flooring it and sending it back the cabinet. In that case, it would be up to the cabinet to resubmit a budget that could pass approval in the Knesset. This process has been known to take months, and was traditionally launched in the opening weeks of the Knesset session. Although advisors to Sharon have insinuated that the prime minister may take the fourth option, and approach President Moshe Katsav to dissolve the Knesset himself, Sharon has not made any direct comments to that effect.