Knesset Sources Predict Giant Gov't

No clear winner means broad coalition.

The new cabinet is likely to break all records for sheer size, predict sources in Knesset. It will be packed with needless ministerial posts, ministers without portfolio and deputy ministers with pointless positions, costing taxpayers millions of shekels a year, because - if the polls are at all accurate - no one party will win a decisive majority, or even win more than 28 seats in the 120-person parliament.

If so, the next prime minister will have to recruit a larger than usual number of parties into the ruling coalition, all of which will claim a seat (or many seats) in the cabinet.

Without doing this, the next PM won't be able to command a decisive majority of at least 75 Knesset members, explain sources in the outgoing parliament. With a smaller number of MKs, any party would be in a position to grandstand - threaten to quit at the smallest provocation, and bring the government down.

Building a broad coalition will mean succumbing to the parties' demands, which will inevitably lead to more ministerial positions, not to mention other top positions at the ministries, even if they have to be created specially.

A minister without portfolio costs taxpayers NIS 2 million a year; a deputy minister costs NIS 1.5 million a year. A minister without portfolio is entitled to employ 12 people at his or her office, while a deputy minister may have eight staffers, so one must add these costs to the bill. One must also add the budgets that will demanded by the ministers without portfolio.

The present cabinet under Ehud Olmert has 24 ministers and two deputy ministers, aside from the prime minister himself. Recently Ami Ayalon quit as minister without portfolio; his position has not been filled. Also, Moldovan-born Avigdor Lieberman quit as minister of Strategic Threats and his ministry, created for the Yisrael Beiteinu chairman, was closed down.

The ratio in the present parliament was one ministry per 2.5 to 3 MKs. For example, Labor has 19 seats in the Knesset and was therefore entitled to seven ministerial positions plus one deputy-minister post. Shas, with 12 seats, got four portfolios; Kadima, with 29 seats, has 13 ministers including the prime minister, and one deputy minister.

According to this method, a future coalition of say 75 to 78 MKs could translate into one prime minister, 25 to 28 other cabinet ministers and four to six deputy ministers, depending on political expediency.