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Knesset to Decide Special or General Elections

Monday, August 27, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags:

Its another long, testy day in the Knesset, which is scheduled to decide late Monday evening between two bills that will determine whether Israelis will vote just for prime minister in a few months, or also for a new parliament.

It may bear his name, but former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is rejecting a legislative effort that would enable him to run in a one-on-one rematch with current PM Ehud Barak in early February. Instead, Netanyahu prefers that the Knesset pass a separate pending bill to dissolve and go to general elections, but many in parliament appear afraid to face the voters.

Despite his opposition, the so-called "Netanyahu Amendment" allowing non-MKs to run in special elections for the premiership passed its first reading in the Knesset plenum Monday afternoon, with 64 MKs voting for and 46 against. The bill was sponsored by Shas and received strong support as well from Labor, as both faction are trembling at recent opinion polls showing they will suffer big losses if new Knesset elections were held now.

Today's vote on first reading of the bill will be followed by two additional votes in parliament later this evening or Tuesday morning, just as Likud party members vote in primaries for a new chairman. Current head Ariel Sharon will face Netanyahu in that race, after several other possible contenders bowed out over the weekend. Netanyahu is expected to win back his top Likud post, but an extra ballot will be cast in case he decides not to run against Barak.

While Netanyahu is the clear frontrunner against Barak or any other potential candidate in the special election for PM, he knows the Likud party also is registering big gains in recent polling. Thus, he wants balloting for a new Knesset to be held at the same time as the snap election for PM triggered by Barak's recent resignation.

After an intense build-up of pressure from Netanyahu and his backers forced several postponements, the Council of Torah Sages finally met today and instructed the 17-man Shas faction to support the Netanyahu amendment and refuse to disband the Knesset in a vote to take place afterwards. Minutes after this news broke, Netanyahu reaffirmed at a press conference that he would still run for the leadership of Likud and to be prime minister, but would decline to run in a special ballot for premier only. And in his latest comments, Netanyahu has said if the Knesset does not vote to dissolve tonight, he will withdraw from tomorrow's Likud primaries.

If the dissolution legislation is approved, the Netanyahu amendment becomes irrelevant, as a party can propose any candidate for prime minister in general elections. But if the non-MK amendment passes, the Knesset does not dissolve and Netanyahu keeps to his pledge, it appears Sharon will be Barak's main challenger come February 6. The two are running close in opinion surveys. Barak is styling this election as a referendum on his peace policies and hopes to swiftly reach some sort of peace agreement with the Palestinians to present to voters by then.

With the violence continuing and Barak sending a team to Washington for renewed peace talks with the Palestinians on Tuesday, Netanyahu is using the possibility of an overly-generous, election-eve deal as his last line of argument with Shas for general elections. Many Sephardi hawks voted for Shas last time around and will probably come back to Likud in the next campaign due to the ultra-Orthodox party's fuzzy stand regarding the peace process.

Although the Knesset Law Committee passed the non-MK amendment back to the full house on Sunday, there was rising sentiment against it. Some MKs said that it would have been better to make other amendments to the Basic Law on Government that would have prevented a prime minister from resigning and running again, as Barak has done.

Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

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Worthy Christian News » World News » Knesset to Decide Special or General Elections