Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kish said Wednesday morning that if the coronavirus infection rate does not decrease, he does not know whether Israel will be able to hold an election in March as planned.
In an interview with 103 FM radio, Kish said that if the election was due to be held now, "The Health Ministry would recommend to the Central Elections Committee to delay it by a month, until the lockdown is over, until the infection rate lowers."
Kish said that the March 23 election may have to be delayed, and clarified that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, from his own Likud party, "Never discussed this… there's a date for Election Day and Likud is preparing for it."
He added that the Central Elections Committee is the only institution with the authority to delay elections. "The Health Ministry is subordinate to it on this matter," he said, adding that the ministry can only be involved in an advisory capacity.
Despite Kish's statements, it is the Knesset, and not the committee, that is authorized to delay elections. The Basic Law on the Knesset allows its members to delay Election Day to an unspecified date due to "exceptional circumstances." The law does not specify for how long the elections can be delayed, only that it can take as long as "is needed for the aforementioned circumstances."
A majority of 80 Knesset members is required in order to push off the election. The law was originally intended to prevent elections from being held during wartime, but may also apply to difficulties that may arise due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Nitzan Horowitz, chairman of the Meretz party, responded to Kish, saying that his party will fight against "this attempt to steal democracy under the cover of a health crisis." He added that Netanyahu "is trying to delay the elections because the infection rate does not suit his campaign. He will do everything in order to extricate himself from the terror of justice."
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Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman slammed Kish's statements. Netanyahu, he Tweeted, "wants to push off the election and turn Israel into a dictatorship. So here's a short explanation on the phenomenon of procrastination – it's connected to depression, attention deficit disorder and social anxiety. Let it go, Bibi. You're not qualified anymore."