Threat of Election Overshadows Opening of Knesset Winter Session

The Knesset's winter session, scheduled to convene tomorrow, will likely continue for just a few weeks until it is dissolved ahead of elections. Although no schedule has been discussed yet, elections are likely to take place sometime between mid-February and mid-March.

The decision to embark on elections may be reached in one of two ways. Under the Basic Law on the Government, from the moment prime minister-designate Tzipi Livni formally informs President Shimon Peres that she is unable to form a government, Peres will have three days to consider and consult, after which he is expected to notify the Knesset chair that he sees no possibility of forming a government. In the ensuing three weeks, any Knesset member is entitled to try to form a coalition, and any group of 61 MKs - a majority of the Knesset - can ask Peres to task one of their number with trying to form a gov't. If no such request is put forth, the president will notify the Knesset chair, and elections are scheduled to be held after 90 days.

Another option is that Knesset faction leaders reach an agreement on an alternative date, and approve a bill accordingly. Although the process is simple, at the moment it appears superfluous, and it is doubtful that anyone will want to appear as delaying elections. Members of the Yisrael Beiteinu and Likud factions, for instance, say they are seeking elections at the earliest possible date.

There is one reason for concern, however: The Knesset faces a month of activity, during which the coalition will not command a majority, creating the potential for legislative anarchy. The question is whether faction leaders will agree to refrain from indulging in a bit of budgetary opportunism.

It could prove very embarrassing for the coalition when outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert addresses tomorrow's session, during which the prime minister generally presents the government's plans for the coming six months.

Unless Livni is able to present a government tomorrow, there will be no point in giving the speech. Although Olmert's resignation has effectively made irrelevant all no-confidence motions pending debate in the upcoming winter session, the coalition's disarray is also a window of opportunity to push motions that would otherwise have been subject to the coalition agreement.