Coalition infighting delays bill to limit powers of president
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Coalition infighting delays bill to limit powers of president

Kulanu, Jewish Home and Shas said to object to clause obligating president to tap leader of largest party as PM

President Reuven Rivlin addresses the Knesset at the opening of the winter session, October 12, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
President Reuven Rivlin addresses the Knesset at the opening of the winter session, October 12, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A vote on a bill that would limit the powers of the president in deciding who to task with forming a government was postponed Saturday due to disagreements within the coalition over the wording of the legislation.

According to the Walla news site, the coalition agrees the president should be able to ask only a party leader to form a government. However, the Kulanu, Jewish Home and Shas parties were all said to object to a clause that would obligate the president to tap the party leader with the highest number of candidates and with the “highest chance” of successfully forming a government.

Coalition sources told the news outlet that deliberation on the bill will be delayed until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can discuss the proposal with party leaders, after their planned meeting this week was postponed due to the premier’s trip to Paris.

The amendment to a Basic Law was proposed by coalition chair David Amsalem (Likud) due to claims that President Reuven Rivlin was looking at the possibility of asking Gideon Sa’ar, a potential challenger to Netanyahu in the next elections, to form a government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) speaking with then-Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar in the Knesset, October 16, 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash 90)

Sa’ar was a rising star in Likud until he took a break from politics in 2014. Analysts consider him a top contender for the premiership in a post-Netanyahu era, and he continues to enjoy high popularity among Likud activists. Sa’ar has expressed the intention of running for the leadership, not only of Likud, but of the entire country.

According to current law, after elections, the president consults with the heads of all factions before asking the party leader deemed to have the best chance of forming a government to begin negotiations with potential coalition partners. The leader tasked with forming a government is generally the one who receives the most recommendations from other parties, and is usually — but not necessarily — the head of the party that has won the largest number of seats.

Rumors of the purported planned “coup” by Sa’ar were reportedly the reason Netanyahu has been delaying a decision on bringing forward the 2019 elections.

According to a report in the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom newspaper last month, the prime minister had recently decided to dissolve the Knesset during the first few days of its winter session, but then received word from associates and officials within the Likud party that Rivlin would not task him with forming a new government after the elections, due to concerns relating to the criminal investigations into him.

The report said that leaders of other parties could also condition their participation in the government on it being led by someone other than Netanyahu.

According to the report, Rivlin was mulling the possibility of tasking someone other than Netanyahu with forming the government — another MK within Likud, if the party wins resoundingly, or a lawmaker from another party, if the margin of victory is narrower — in light of the ongoing corruption investigations against the prime minister.

Since becoming president in 2015, Rivlin has publicly differed with Netanyahu on a number of hot-button issues, though he has refrained from directly attacking the prime minister. The president has also been outspoken in defending various institutions from attacks by Netanyahu and his allies.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin attend a ceremony awarding outstanding soldiers as part of Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebrations, at the President’s residence in Jerusalem, April 19, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Rivlin dismissed the coup report claim as “paranoia,” while Sa’ar called it a “ridiculous conspiracy theory.”

In 2009, Netanyahu became prime minister after opposition leader Tzipi Livni was unable to form a coalition, despite her Kadima Party winning the most seats.

Netanyahu is under investigation for corruption in three separate cases, and lawmakers close to him have launched repeated attacks on the press and police, proposing various pieces of legislation to limit their ability to report on or investigate public figures, respectively.

Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni speaks during the plenary session of the opening day of the winter session at the Knesset, on October 15, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In two cases, dubbed 1000 and 2000, police have already recommended bribery indictments against the prime minister.

Netanyahu is also suspected of advancing regulatory decisions as communications minister and as prime minister that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in an investigation known as Case 4000.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.

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