Shas vetoes direct regional elections

MKs, activists incensed; Paz-Pines plans to sponsor legislation as private member's bill.

yishai looks up 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
yishai looks up 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
A majority of MKs supported on Sunday a bill to elect up to half the Knesset in direct, regional elections, which was sponsored by the top legislators of Kadima, Labor and Likud, with the three largest parties working together in unprecedented cooperation. Every minister except one on the Ministerial Committee on Legislation backed the bill, including the committee chairman, Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann. But that one vote against was enough to stop the bill, as Minister-without-Portfolio Meshulam Nahari used his power to veto it on behalf of Shas. Any coalition partner could have blocked the bill, because it would have changed a Basic Law, the legislation that forms the cornerstone of an eventual constitution. The committee's decision means that the coalition opposes the bill, making it nearly impossible to pass it. Israel is one of the few countries in the world where none of its parliament members are elected directly to represent regions. The MKs vowed to change that by passing a bill that would require 30 to 60 MKs out of 120 to be selected regionally, while the rest would continue to be elected according to the current system of voting for party lists. Nahari's spokesman said the reason he opposed the bill was that Shas was not consulted about it in advance and all bills impacting Basic Laws require consultation with coalition partners in advance. A senior Shas official said the party also opposed the bill on ideological grounds, believing that it would harm the party's constituency of Sephardi, traditional, and Orthodox voters. The initiators of the bill vigorously denied that Shas had not been consulted. The initiators included Knesset Law Committee chairman Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima), Likud MKs Gideon Sa'ar and Michael Eitan and Labor MKs Ophir Paz-Pines and Eitan Cabel. Paz-Pines accused the government of a "shameful surrender" to Shas. He said that Knesset members should have been allowed to vote according to their conscience without the ministerial committee on legislation interfering. "The government is handcuffed by Shas," Paz-Pines said. "It is a certificate of dishonor for the government and Kadima that ran on a platform of electoral reform. Had we changed the electoral system, the minister who blocked the bill could have been held accountable to the people." Paz-Pines said he would raise the bill on Wednesday as a private member's bill, a risky move that would prevent it from being raised again for six months if it fell. Ben-Sasson said he would use the Knesset Law Committee to expedite the legislation and raise it at a time when it could pass. "Shas hasn't kept its promises to help with electoral reforms, which frees us to advance this bill despite them," Ben-Sasson said. Elaine Levitt, the co-chair of the Citizens Empowerment Public Action Committee, which lobbied MKs in favor of the bill, reacted with disappointment to the news that it had likely died. "I am totally appalled at today's news that only one man can frustrate the crying need of the nation for electoral reform," Levitt said. "This ultimate hutzpa only proves again the weakness of our democracy. This bill intended to bridge the growing gap between the people and the legislature." Nahari's spokesman did not return repeated telephone requests from the Post to respond to the story.