Knesset to Select New State Comptroller Monday in a Litmus Test for Netanyahu's Political Clout

The premier's Likud party worries that its favorite candidate, Matanyahu Englman, will not get right-wing parties' support in secret ballot

PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Sara Netanyahu at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, June 2, 2019

The Likud party is worried that its candidate for state comptroller, Matanyahu Englman, will not win in the secret vote to be held Monday in the Knesset.

“Englman has a good chance of winning, but it is far from certain,” said a senior member of the party who has worked to promote Englman's candidacy.

“Without a doubt," he added, "the dissolution of the Knesset will make it hard to recruit a majority [of MKs] to elect him to the position.”

Matanyahu Englman, currently director general of the Council for Higher Education, and the Likud candidate for Israel's state comptroller, June 2, 2019
David Bachar

Likud MKs fear that the other right-wing parties will ignore agreements they made with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and will either not attend the special parliamentary session or will cast their ballots for the candidate of the center-left parties: former Israel Defense Forces Maj. Gen. (res.) Giora Romm, chairman of the National Road Safety Authority and former director of the Civil Aviation Authority.

For its part, Yisrael Beiteinu officially announced Sunday that despite the dispute between its leader, Avigdor Lieberman, and Netanyahu, the party intends on supporting Englman, who is currently director general of the Council for Higher Education.

Former Israel Defense Forces Maj. Gen. (res.) Giora Romm, chairman of the National Road Safety Authority and former director of the Civil Aviation Authority, and the Knesset opposition's candidate for Israel's state comptroller, June 2, 2019.
Ilan Assayag

The two parties representing Israeli Arab citizens announced that they will not abstain in the vote and will support Romm. MK Abd al-Hakim Hajj Yahya (United Arab List – Balad) had even agreed two weeks ago to sign a request by the opposition to green light Romm's candidacy.

“Without a doubt, the vote is a major test for Netanyahu and will prove whether he is lame duck or whether a stable coalition stands behind him, which will stand with him after the election too,” said a Likud MK.

The vote will be held at 2 P.M. during a session that is supposed to include the full Knesset. By law, to win the first round of balloting a candidate must garner an absolute majority – at least 61 lawmakers out of 120. If neither of the candidates receives a majority, a second round is held and the winner will be the one with the most votes – even if he does not receive 61.

Last week the office of the Knesset legal adviser determined that the vote for state comptroller cannot be postponed until after the September 17 election and the formation of a new government, nor can an interim comptroller be appointed.

The State Comptroller Law sets a strict schedule for the Knesset election of the comptroller, as opposed to decisions on other senior government officials who are appointed by the cabinet. The law requires that a vote be held within a two-month period beginning 90 days before the end of the term of the outgoing comptroller, which in this case is July 3, 2019. The law also states that even if the Knesset is in recess during that period, it must meet in a special session to hold the balloting.

Outgoing Israeli State Comptroller Joseph Shapira, Feb. 4, 2019
Ilan Assayag

Tohar Hamidot, the Movement for Integrity, had asked to postpone the vote on the state comptroller until after the Knesset election in the fall, but a representative of the legal adviser’s office, attorney Avital Sompolinsky, said the law did not allow for any flexibility or discretion in determining the date. In addition, she noted, the Knesset is the institution that appoints the comptroller, and is not subject in this case to any of the limitations placed on an interim government in the period leading up to a general election.

The Movement for Integrity NGO sought to postpone the election of the comptroller because, it reasoned, since the 21st Knesset was dissolved last week, the next parliament should be the one to vote – and a temporary comptroller should be chosen for now. However, Sompolinsky explained that an interim appointment can only be made by the State Control Committee, but that committee was never appointed by the Knesset elected in April because no new government had been formed.