As Israel slides to third elections, bill aims to cut campaign period in half

As Israel slides to third elections, bill aims to cut campaign period in half

Likud MK Miki Zohar’s proposal seeks to set election run-up to 45 days instead of 90; idea said to have broad support from parties; Blue and White widens lead over Likud in TV poll

A family votes in the West Bank settlement of Tekoa, on September 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
A family votes in the West Bank settlement of Tekoa, on September 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

As Israelis face the unpopular prospect of a third round of elections within a year, Likud MK Miki Zohar submitted a bill Tuesday that seeks to halve the election campaign period, with the aim of reducing the impact that the process has on the economy and the public.

Likud faction chairman Zohar proposed changing the quasi-constitutional Basic Law: The Government to make the election period just 45 days, rather than the current 90 days.

The idea has broad support on both sides of the political field, the Ynet news website reported, with both the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu and centrist Blue and White parties in favor of the proposal.

The bill says that shortening the election period is intended “to reduce the impact on the Israeli economy and the public and to bring about the establishment of a new government as soon as possible.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with Likud MK Miki Zohar at a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset on February 26, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Zohar also proposed canceling the nationwide day off to vote, which, he estimated would cost the economy NIS 5 billion ($1.4 billion).

“In the circumstances created, when elections are held more than twice a year, the day off is not necessary and puts an economic burden on employers who actually fund this day off,” he wrote in the bill.

Zohar said the vacation day to vote was not customary around the world, and it has not yet been proven that it increases voter turnout.

Possible opposition to the change could come from the Central Elections Committee which may argue that it is not ready for an election as it needs to arrange suitable locations for polling booths and gather the manpower needed for voting day.

Two rounds of elections, in April and September, failed to produce an elected government. The Knesset has a December 11 deadline for lawmakers to agree on an MK to form a government or parliament will be dissolved and third elections set, likely for March.

In another proposed change to voting laws, Blue and White MK Zvi Hauser last week submitted a bill to enable Israelis abroad to also vote in elections.

Zvi Hauser of Blue and White party in the Israeli parliament on May 6, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The bill is intended to allow Israelis who are temporarily abroad for business or studies to vote, Hauser explained in a statement. Under current law, only a narrow range of people, including diplomats and Jewish Agency emissaries, can vote if they are outside of the country on election day.

“If elections are held again, there will be the huge distortion that prevents tens of thousands of Israelis temporarily residing outside Israel from voting because of their stay abroad on election day.”

“It is time to update Israeli law and adapt to the changes that have occurred in the last half-century,” he said.

The statement cited Central Bureau of Statistics figures that estimate there are some 550,000 Israelis living abroad for more than a year who were eligible to vote in the last election but could not because they were out of the country.

Polls put Blue and White ahead of Likud

Also Tuesday, a Channel 12 television poll found that if elections were held today,  the Blue and White party led by MK Benny Gantz would win 37 seats, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party would get just 30 of the Knesset’s 120 seats. In the last elections, Blue and White won 33 and Likud 32.

The Joint List, an alliance of predominantly Arab parties, would win 12 seats, one down from the last election. The two ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism would win eight and seven, respectively, a drop of one seat for Shas, the poll predicted. Yisrael Beytenu would also drop one seat to seven.

New Right would gain three seats to win six places in the Knesset. The Labor-Gesher alliance would drop a seat to five, Jewish Home-National Union would again win four seats, and Democratic Union would also lose a seat, dropping to four.

Overall, however, the right-wing and religious bloc, led by Netanyahu, would still have the same 55 seats as it holds now, short of the 61 seats needed for a majority in the Knesset. Likewise, Gantz’s center-left bloc would also not have a clear majority, indicating the political deadlock would persist.

The survey also asked Likud voters who they support in the primary for party leadership and 89% said Netanyahu, with only 4% supporting Sa’ar. After criminal charges were announced against Netanyahu last week, Sa’ar openly challenged the prime minister for the Likud leadership.

Asked if Netanyahu should remain prime minister at the moment, 56% of respondents said no, 37% said yes and 7% didn’t know. Some 42% blamed Netanyahu for the expected third election, 35% said it was because of Avigdor Liberman, 5% said Yair Lapid, and 4% named Benny Gantz.

The online survey was conducted on November 25 and polled 510 people over the age of 18. It had a margin of error of 4.2%.

Netanyahu meets Edelstein as both urge Likud unity

Following Sa’ar’s challenge to Netanyahu, the prime minister and Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, No. 2 on the Likud list, issued a joint statement calling for “unity in the Likud,”

“The flames need to be lowered to avoid internal splits and quarrels and to stand united against the challenges facing the movement and the state,” they said, according to Channel 13.

After Netanyahu and Gantz both failed to form a government following the September elections, there has been some speculation another candidate, such as Sa’ar or Edelstein, would use the 21-day period to gather 61 signatures that would see them tasked with forming a coalition.

Likud party member Gideon Saar at the party faction meeting during the opening session of the 22nd Knesset, on October 3, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Channel 12 reported on Tuesday that covert negotiations were being held in an attempt to agree on a unity government despite the political impasse. The outline reportedly being discussed entails Netanyahu serving as premier for several months, then a Blue and White member — likely Gantz — taking over for two years, after which a Likud candidate would take over for the remainder of the term.

However, Yedioth Ahronoth reported that Netanyahu rejected this offer because Blue and White would not support granting him immunity from the charges against him.

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