In a rare moment of unity, the coalition and the opposition joined forces on Tuesday in proposing a bill modeled after the Norwegian law which requires those appointed to ministerial posts to vacate their parliamentary seats in favor of other members of their party.
Coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud), who is better known for his aggressive partisanship, and Zionist Camp MK Yoel Hasson are co-sponsoring the bill for the good of the Knesset, they said.
“My goal is to strengthen the stature of the parliament, the work of the MKs, and the principle of separation of powers,” Bitan was quoted as saying by The Jerusalem Post. “The coalition and opposition can agree on this, so there would be a wide spectrum of support.”
Bitan said that with as many as 20 ministers simultaneously serving as Knesset members, they do not have the time to devoted to parliamentary work, leaving the lawmakers shorthanded. He said that if the bill doesn’t pass (unlikely, with such bipartisan backing), he would advocate expanding the Knesset from 120 to 140 members, to get the work done.
“The Knesset is becoming weaker and less able to perform its function of overseeing the government,” Hasson said. “Instead, the Knesset is becoming a tool for implementing the government’s decisions.”
He said that when Knesset members become ministers, they effectively cease to function as parliamentarians, except for voting on bills they know little about.
“The ministers just come and vote like machines, and they are very annoyed by it,” Hasson said.
The Norwegian approach is not without its drawbacks, as Dr. Chen Friedberg of the Israel Democracy Institute pointed out at a meeting with MKs on Tuesday.
She said that ministers would be disconnected from the work of the Knesset, that it could cost 20 to 30 million shekels for all the additional salaries, and that it would give an impression of corruption (presumably because it would mean more jobs and more patronage). But none of these obstacles were insurmountable, she argued.
“The Norwegian Law has improved the effectiveness of parliaments in European countries,” Friedberg said. “It will save the taxpayers money in the long run, because the MKs will better serve the interests of the public.”