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About half a year ago, on October 28, 2003, the local elections took place. The parties competing received generous financing support from the state to the tune of NIS 160 million, which was divided among them by a fairly complex calculation. Each local authority totted up the number of voters, and this was multiplied by NIS 49. This number was then divided by the number of seats on the local council, and that's how you get the value of a seat on the council.

The Interior Ministry then allocated funding to the veteran parties, handing out an advance of 60 percent of funds due, based on existing number of seats on the council, while new party lists got a 60 percent deposit based on winning one council seat. Those parties with representation in the Knesset can also fall back on another possibility of funding: their relative power in the Knesset.

Immediately after the elections, the Interior Ministry passed on to the parties an extra 25 percent of the funds, with the remaining 15 percent held back until each party got a seal of approval from the state comptroller for its behavior during the elections. This report has yet to be published.

Recently, the Interior Ministry's elections supervisor checked the actual results of each local authority and city, and worked out how much each party was entitled to in state funding. Once a party is found to have been paid more in advances than it was entitled to, then it must repay the difference to the ministry.

The day of reckoning has arrived. Yesterday Interior Minister Avraham Poraz sent a letter to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin with the party list and the sums each owes to the state: Meimad - NIS 80,000; Ra'am - NIS 260,000: Ta'al - NIS 675,000: Ma'da - NIS 864,000: Hadash - NIS 1.3 million: Labor - NIS 1.8 million: One Nation - NIS 1.9 million: Tekuma - NIS 2.1 million: Shinui - NIS 3.2 million: Aliya - NIS 4.8 million: United Torah Judaism - NIS 5.3 million: Degel Hatorah NIS 5.7 million: and Likud (which failed in the elections) - NIS 18 million - another headache for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Which brings us to two problems. The first is the system itself. Why is each party given a 60 percent advance based on the previous elections, and then afterward another 25 percent? Many changes occur between elections, so some parties will get more than they deserve and therefore spend too much - and end up trapped in debt. So, first of all, the advance should be significantly reduced.

The second problem is the state of the parties. Most of them are in financial straits, with heavy debts, which begs the question, how are they going to repay NIS 46 million to the state? The law grants the Knesset speaker the right to dock each party's monthly state funding to recover these sums, and he may also determine what monthly payment schedule to impose on each. But the worry is that the parties will get wise to the situation and pass a law that wipes out their debts, or increases their state funding so that they can meet the repayments. The public should be on guard against this happening.