Likud plans to expand ‘Norwegian Law’ to increase number of politicians in office

Ruling party has 17 ministers among its 32 MKs; is seeking legislation that would allow up to 10 of them to quit Knesset, making way for fresh lawmakers

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

Incoming Benjamin Netanyahu with fellow Likud MKs in the Knesset, December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Incoming Benjamin Netanyahu with fellow Likud MKs in the Knesset, December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition is preparing to advance an expanded version of the so-called Norwegian Law to let up to 10 downlist candidates replace ministers in their Knesset seats, thereby easing expected legislative power struggles within his Likud faction.

Inspired by a similar provision in the Scandinavian nation, the current Norwegian Law is an amendment to Basic Law: The Knesset that lets a number of cabinet members from each government party resign their Knesset seats while they hold their ministerial posts, and be replaced by the next candidates on their faction’s election rosters.

Last expanded in 2020, the current law states that factions with between four and six MKs can replace up to three ministers, factions with seven to nine can swap out up to four ministers, and factions with at least 10 lawmakers can switch out up to five ministers.

Likud’s plan would keep the limits for smaller factions, but eliminate the five-seat cap for factions with over 18 MKs. Instead, larger parties would be able replace up to a third of their slate, rounding down, so that the 32-seat Likud would be able to bring in up to 10 new MKs.

The bill might come to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation as early as Sunday, according to a spokesperson for the head of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which has prepared one version of the bill.

Despite Likud pushing the bill, Netanyahu’s party is struggling to convince ministers to let go of their Knesset seats. As of Thursday, only two ministers submitted Knesset resignation letters, Culture and Sport Minister Miki Zohar and Tourism Minister Haim Katz.

Likud MK Miki Zohar arrives for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on May 6, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

With 17 of Likud’s 32 MKs doubling as ministers, very few lawmakers are left to do the heavy lifting of staffing Knesset committees and proposing bills, which ministers are barred from doing.

While quitting Knesset to bring in fresh blood may be helpful for the party, Likud lawmakers are politically wary of both losing their power and lowering their profile.

Netanyahu handed out so many ministries in part to satisfy political demands from his party MKs, many of whom grumbled about his generosity when handing out jobs to Likud’s far-right and ultra-Orthodox coalition partners. Even with many ensconced in freshly staffed ministries, power struggles continue within Likud. One way for politicians to exert pressure on Netanyahu is in the Knesset. In a tight, 64-seat coalition, a number of MKs not showing up to votes can torpedo a bill.

Downlist MKs are generally less powerful politicians, especially in a party that sets its slate through a modified primary, like Likud. Many are expected to be more pliant and refrain from attempting to coerce Netanyahu through legislation.

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