ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 150

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Expanded ‘Norwegian Law’ passes, with up to 27 fresh MKs able to swap into coalition

At expected annual cost of up to $11 million, downlist politicians are expected to free up parliamentary pressure on PM to control party, enable MKs to attend committees

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

A plenum session on forming the government in the Knesset on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
File: A plenum session on forming the government in the Knesset on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Knesset passed a law Monday night to increase the number of coalition politicians in office, expanding the so-called Norwegian Law to allow up to 27 additional lawmakers to swell coalition ranks in the Knesset under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The law was passed in its final and third reading with 65 votes in favor, 18 opposed and one abstention.

Legislated as a change to Basic Law: The Knesset and nicknamed after a similar provision in Oslo, the amendment allows a greater number of ministers and deputy ministers from large factions to resign, with their positions as MKs taken by members of their parties. The law also creates a mechanism for tiny factions to make use of the clause.

Proponents of the change say it will “strengthen the Knesset” by increasing the ranks of harried lawmakers to do parliamentary work barred to ministers, as MK Simcha Rothman told the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee he chairs, shortly before it voted on party lines to approve the bill on Monday for its final floor votes.

Pushed by Netanyahu’s Likud, the bill is also a way for the premier to swap out headstrong party seniors with more pliable junior MKs in the Knesset faction. Netanyahu made 17 of his 32 lawmakers ministers, in part to buy compliance or in hopes of forcing a switch out of Knesset via the Norwegian Law.

The Norwegian Law lets a number of cabinet members and deputy ministers from each government party resign their Knesset seats while they hold their ministerial posts. If a minister later resigns from the cabinet, they automatically return to the Knesset, requiring the lawmaker who replaced them in parliament to give up their seat.

Up until now, the law allowed factions with between four and six MKs to replace up to three ministers; factions with seven to nine to swap out up to four ministers; and factions with at least 10 lawmakers to switch out up to five ministers.

Constitution Committee Chair MK Simcha Rothman leads a committee debate, January 17, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The expanded bill will keep the limits for smaller factions, but eliminate the five-seat cap for factions with over 18 MKs. Instead, larger parties will be able to replace up to a third of their slate, rounding up, so that the 32-seat Likud will be able to bring in up to 11 new MKs.

It will also allow tiny parties with less than four MKs — today only including Avi Maoz’s single-man Noam faction — to replace half of their ministers, also rounded up, with fresh MKs.

Only four Likud lawmakers have resigned their posts so far in order to let fresh MKs in under the previous version of the law. Likud is one of a handful of parties to run a competitive primary to set its election roster, and several party members explained that politicians are loath to leave the visibility of Knesset, in fear of dropping down the slate come the next contest.

Opposition lawmakers from the Constitution Committee also raised non-political concerns with expanding the Norwegian Law, as it distances lawmakers from ministers.

Hadash-Ta’al MK Aida Touma-Suleiman told the committee that the law would increase “the disconnect between the ministers and the legislative branch since the ministers stop attending the plenum. They emerge from time to time and it is difficult to talk to them.”

Similarly, Yesh Atid MK Yoav Segalovitz, who until recently served as a deputy minister but retained his MK seat, said that doing both in tandem “made it possible to provide a quick response to inquiries and the interaction has helped to understand things differently.”

Deputy Public Security Minister Yoav Segalovitz speaks at a Knesset Public Security Committee meeting on April 10, 2022. (Gal Cohen/Knesset)

However, as ministers and deputy ministers are blocked from serving on committees, proposing laws, and carrying out much of the core parliamentary labor, the bloated government — sitting at 32 ministers and 6 deputies in a 64-member coalition — has left only 24 non-Norwegian lawmakers to share the burden. Additional ministerial resignations from Knesset are expected in the coming weeks.

Although the government is not expected to use its full allocation, if up to 27 extra lawmakers are expected to enter the Knesset under the Norwegian Law, the total additional cost for the government would be between NIS 35 million and NIS 39 million ($10 million to $11 million) a year.

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