Peretz slams plan; top Kadima officials want PM to replace defense minister.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert unveiled a far-reaching electoral reform plan that would give unprecedented powers to the prime minister in a speech to the Kadima council at the party's Petah Tikva headquarters on Thursday night.
Olmert told the council that "in a matter of weeks" he believed he would be able to present to the Knesset a plan that would set a minimum of 66 MKs to pass a no-confidence motion and 73 to dissolve parliament. The cabinet would be limited to 18 ministers, one-fourth of whom would be experts in their fields who did not run for Knesset.
The prime minister would be empowered to dissolve the Knesset and would not need to bring ministers for approval. MKs appointed ministers would quit the Knesset, but could return if they left their ministerial post.
"These principles are not the end of a process, they are a basis for further dialogue that will take a few weeks and after that I think we can bring it to the Knesset and change the system of government," Olmert said. "It's not a messianic dream but a realistic opportunity to bring the necessary stability to the Israeli government."
Olmert sent Herzilya Interdisciplinary Center head Uriel Reichman and Knesset Law Committee chairman Menahem Ben-Sasson to negotiate the plan with Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman and Pensioners Party head Rafi Eitan. Lieberman said that he would promise that the next election would be held under the new system.
Labor and Shas officials expressed outrage that they were left out of the process. Olmert's spokesman said he would only present the plan to Labor and Shas upon his return from the US. Their support would be needed to pass it.
Shas chairman Eli Yishai said his party would vigorously oppose the plan because it was not consulted. He called Olmert's attempt to claim progress in changing the electoral system "phony."
Labor chairman Amir Peretz slammed Olmert's plan, saying it would harm the Knesset and its oversight over the government. He said Labor would convene soon to draft its own proposal.
"Changing the governmental system is a fundamental issue that must be handled carefully and decided in a wide public debate and not with political deals," Peretz said.
In a speech to the Kadima council, Reichman called upon Olmert to move Peretz to a different cabinet position and replace him as defense minister with a man who has security experience. The crowd of Kadima activists applauded the call, and several top Kadima officials said privately that they wished Olmert could follow the lead of US President George W. Bush, who fired his defense secretary due to the unsuccessful war in Iraq.
Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit called for changing the election system so a prime minister could have the power to fire a defense minister without causing a coalition crisis that would topple his government. He said he also favored regional elections for Knesset and other steps that would ensure checks and balances.
Olmert spokesman Asi Shariv responded to the calls by saying that Peretz would be Olmert's defense minister for years to come.
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