Law to Limit President’s Leeway in Government Formation Set to Proceed

The Knesset building.

A law that would limit the President’s leeway to impact the formation of a government is to be put on a fast track, Hadashot News reported Monday. The law would require the President to recommend that the head of the list of the party that gets the most votes in the Knesset be the first to have the opportunity to form a government.

The law, proposed by MK David Amsalem, will be presented at the next meeting of the Ministerial Law Committee, the report said, where it is expected to pass easily – after which it will be sent to the Knesset for its first reading. The breakthrough that is allowing the bill to proceed is the agreement of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to support it, Hadashot News said, after he had originally opposed it.

In Israel’s parliamentary system, the party with the most votes generally has the first opportunity to form a government, which must be formed within 90 days of elections. According to the Basic Law on elections, the president has the option of calling on an individual other than the head of the party – or even on a party that did not garner the highest number of votes in the election – to form a government, if he feels that the chosen individual or party has the best chance to form a government. Amsalem’s proposal would change that law to require that the president present the head of the party that got the most votes with that first opportunity.

The issue of who would form the next government came to the fore last month, after Yisrael Hayom reported that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was concerned that President Reuven Rivlin would bypass him to form the new government after the next elections. Given the bad blood between Netanyahu and Rivlin, the newspaper said – Rivlin is said to blame Netanyahu for attempting to prevent him from ascending to the presidency – Netanyahu decided not to call for early elections as he had planned to do, preferring to figure out a way to ensure that Rivlin not be able to perform a “runaround” of his forming a government.

Later, the newspaper said, Likud sources named former Likud MK and minister Gideon Sa’ar as being responsible for the efforts to convince Rivlin not to appoint Netanyahu as the organizer of the government. Sa’ar, too, has hard feelings for Netanyahu, whom he blames for keeping him out of the Knesset.

While media reports have tried to connect the Yisrael Hayom reports with the new law, Amsalem said that it had nothing to do with his proposal. “The idea that the president would do such a thing is absolutely ridiculous. I don’t believe it could ever happen, but on the other hand many things that we don’t believe can happen do happen. Thus a law is necessary to ensure that things are done properly. The head of the Knesset’s largest party is generally the most dominant person in the party, and a very dominant person in the political establishment. Any attempt to push this person aside would be a type of revolution,” he said.

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