Shas Outlines Laundry List of Government Reforms

Party supports limiting number of ministers to 18, making coalition agreements accountable by law.

Shas is proposing its own reform of the system of government: Giving legal status to coalition agreements.

The party's governmental reform team - legal advisor David Glass, MK Yakov Margi and party strategist Yehuda Avidan - met on Monday with Knesset Constitution Committee Chairman Menachem Ben-Sasson and gave him a document outlining its stance on various proposed reforms.

"Applying the principle of 'agreements must be honored' to coalition agreements as well would contribute to strengthening governmental stability and increase faith in politicians, which has been greatly eroded," wrote Glass in the proposal.

Shas' position carries great weight, because its current coalition agreement grants it veto power over any change in the system of government. Article 45 of this agreement states: "Any change in a Basic Law or any enactment of a Basic Law will be formulated and enacted only with the consent of all coalition parties." Thus if this agreement is honored, proposals not supported by Shas will not pass. And Shas, it turns out, does not support much.

The party does back the so-called Norwegian law, under which cabinet members would have to resign their Knesset seats in favor of the next person on their party's slate, but would return to the Knesset should they resign as ministers. This proposal would improve the functioning of Knesset and cabinet alike, wrote Glass.

Shas also supports limiting the number of ministers to 18 and is willing to assign the job of forming a government to the head of the largest party - though the latter change, it says, seems superfluous. It also favors restricting the Economic Arrangements Law that accompanies the budget to issues with direct budgetary impact. The current sprawling bill, wrote Glass, "turns the Knesset into a 'rubber stamp' for reforms initiated by treasury clerks."

However, Shas opposes many other changes, since it believes that "strengthening the government's capabilities must not come at the expense of undermining the Knesset's status." Thus, for instance, it rejects the idea, favored by other coalition parties, of requiring 66 or 70 votes in the 120-member Knesset to pass a no-confidence motion. That would lead to anarchy, Glass wrote, because a government that lacks a Knesset majority would be unable to pass a budget or block opposition bills.

Shas also opposes another idea backed by other coalition parties: allowing voters to rank members of a party's slate by marking their preferred candidates on the ballot. That, wrote Glass, "is liable to cause unnecessary confusion," lengthen voting times and cause many votes to be disqualified. However, Shas might agree to allow individual parties to adopt this system if they choose.

Ben-Sasson said that he was pleased with the meeting, viewing it as a green light to move forward with his preferred reform package: the Norwegian law, restricting the cabinet to 18 members, assigning the head of the largest party the task of forming the government, raising the electoral threshold and letting voters rank their party's Knesset candidates.