MKs to Vote on Revolution in Budget, Electoral System

The Knesset Constitution Committee will soon begin discussing a shift from straight proportional representation to a mixed system in which some Knesset members are elected via districts, according to committee chairman Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima).

Ben-Sasson said he would begin hearings on this issue once an initial package of governmental reforms passes its first reading. These measures are due to be brought for a vote in the coming weeks, once the coalition reaches a consensus on them.

Such a consensus is required because most of the measures involve amending Basic Laws, and the coalition agreements state that Basic Laws cannot be amended without the consent of all coalition parties.

Last winter, the Magidor Committee on governmental reform recommended that half of all MKs be elected by district. Ben-Sasson is proposing a more modest reform in which only a quarter of the Knesset, or 30 MKs, would be elected regionally.

His proposal also stipulates that the total number of MKs per party will continue to be determined by the proportional system, in which voters cast their ballots for a party rather than a specific candidate. In this way, small parties will not suffer from the reform.

The initial package of reforms that Ben-Sasson's committee has already approved comprises six bills:

b The so-called Norwegian Law, which would require all ministers and deputy ministers except party chairs to resign from the Knesset and be replaced by the next person on their party's list. This is meant to ensure that the Knesset always has about 110 functioning MKs. Currently, about one-quarter of all MKs are unavailable for parliamentary work because they are serving as ministers or deputy ministers. It would also enable ministers to devote more time to their jobs, as they would not need to keep running to the Knesset for votes. The bill would cost an estimated NIS 25 million a year.

b A bill stipulating that the head of the largest party will automatically be given first crack at forming a government. This would encourage people to vote for major parties rather than small ones, increasing the size of the big parties. That in turn would reduce their dependence on small coalition partners, making it easier for them to govern.

b A reform of the budget process under which the government would have to submit a general economic plan to the Knesset by the end of April and the full budget by the beginning of September. The budget would also have to be published a month before the cabinet votes on it. The Economic Arrangements Bill accompanying the budget, which traditionally includes legislation required by the budget's provisions plus various economic reforms, would be banned, except during economic crises. In addition, the Knesset would automatically be dissolved should it fail to approve the budget by the end of the year.

b A bill raising the electoral threshold, or the number of votes a party needs to enter the Knesset, from 2 to 2.5 percent of the total valid votes cast.

b A bill allowing ministerial powers to be delegated to deputy ministers.

b A bill requiring the prime minister to designate a vice premier to replace him if he is incapacitated, and detailing the situations in which the vice premier should take the reins.

While Ben-Sasson believes that these reforms will improve the functioning of both the government and the Knesset, not everyone agrees. For instance, Likud faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar argued that the Norwegian Law would make it harder for governments to pass legislation because while ministers and deputy ministers always vote with the government, ordinary MKs are often less disciplined.