Ministers break with cabinet policy in Knesset votes

MKs vote in favor of bills opposed by legistative c'tee; bill extending maternity leave passes initial reading.

knesset 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
knesset 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Opponents of the government scored a victory - or rather, five separate victories - on the floor of the Knesset Wednesday, when the Knesset voted in favor of five bills that had all been opposed by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. The committee is usually considered the benchmark for determining which bills are or are not supported by the coalition. That Kadima members themselves broke ranks five times to vote in favor of the proposed bills showed yet another crack in the coalition's façade. On the law to dissolve the merger between the Druse towns of Usfiya and Daliat al-Carmel - a law cosponsored by MKs Ahmed Tibi (UAL), David Azoulay (Shas), Muhammad Barakei (Hadash), Yoram Marciano (Labor), Nadia Hilu (Labor) and Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) - only Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit opposed the proposal, which goes directly against the policy that his ministry has maintained for the past two years. Other cabinet members, however, voted in favor of the split. In good news for mothers-to-be across the country, coalition discipline also failed to hold up - or even appear at all - in the preliminary vote on a bill sponsored by Likud faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar and MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) to extend the current maternity leave period from 14 to 16 weeks. The ministerial committee had also opposed that legislation due to the expense involved should it be enacted, but on the Knesset floor, opposition to the bill dissolved and the preliminary reading passed. Three other bills - exemption from municipal taxes for people over 80, a raise in pension payments to parallel the average salary as opposed to minimum wage, and funding for pre-military preparation programs - also all made it through voting Wednesday, despite being nixed by the ministerial committee due to budgetary constraints. One high-ranking Likud official said that coalition members, and particularly Kadima MKs, were afraid of voting against "social" legislation or of losing vote after vote, so - with very few exceptions - they changed their votes at the last minute. This recent phenomenon of landslide votes against the coalition adds yet another dilemma to the pile already awaiting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when he returns from his trip to the United States. During the previous Knesset session, Olmert threatened that he would fire any minister who voted against the recommendations of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. If that holds true, Olmert will have to come to reckoning with a wide range of ministers who voted against the committee's recommendations Wednesday, including Minister-without-Portfolio Ami Ayalon, Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra, Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon and Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan.