Netanyahu loyalists push bill to prevent Likud rivals from forming government

Netanyahu loyalists push bill to prevent Likud rivals from forming government

Legislation that would limit presidential powers will face ministerial vote next week, was proposed to counter alleged ‘coup’ attempt by Sa’ar and Rivlin

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

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

Senior Likud lawmakers have proposed a bill that would restrict the president’s powers in picking a political leader to form a coalition after national elections, in a move widely seen as an attempt to stifle a potential rebellion against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from within his own party.

The bill, which comes in the form of an amendment to a quasi-constitutional law, would ensure that only the leader of each elected political party has the right to form a government and not any other figure on the parties’ lists.

Under current law, after elections, the president consults with the heads of all factions before asking “the lawmaker deemed to have the best chances of forming a government” to begin negotiations with potential coalition partners, according to  the Basic Law: The Government. The person tasked with forming a government is generally the one that 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.

The proposed bill, drafted by coalition chairman David Amsalem and other Likud MKs considered close to Netanyahu, would replace the words “the lawmaker” with “the party head.”

The explanation of the bill, presented to the Knesset along with the proposal, says that the current wording of the law “is liable to lead to an absurd situation in which the task of forming the government is given to a Knesset member who is not a party leader and who was not even a candidate for prime minister during the elections themselves.”

President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a memorial service marking 23 years since the assassination of late Israeli Prime Minsiter Yitzhak Rabin, held at Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, on October 21, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

The bill is set to be fast-tracked due to a request by Amsalem to forgo the 45 days a proposal normally has to wait before Knesset deliberations, and is set to be voted on by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation as early as next Sunday. Netanyahu is widely expected to call early elections sometime in the coming months.

Talk of the amendment came after Netanyahu last month claimed a former senior member of his Likud party was trying to oust him after the next elections, with the help of the president. Netanyahu accused former minister Gideon Sa’ar of trying to orchestrate a “coup” that would see him ascend to the Likud leadership and the premiership after the next elections. Sa’ar is a popular former strongman seen as a potential challenger to Netanyahu.

Sa’ar has demanded that Netanyahu either provide evidence or retract his claim.

The accusation against Sa’ar came after the pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom reported that the prime minister has been delaying calling early elections amid fears that President Reuven Rivlin would task Sa’ar with forming a government.

According to the report, Rivlin had been 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.

Rivlin’s vociferously rejected the report, calling it “paranoia.”

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon recently told his faction’s chair, MK Roy Folkman, and other officials that there is a “hole in the laws” governing presidential powers that grant the president the right to task any lawmaker with forming a coalition, according to a Hadahsot news report Sunday.

Kahlon said that although the party would back a change in the law limiting the president to select a candidate only from among the party leaders, “we will not agree to any other adjustment.”

Such legislation would require changing the president’s powers as described in Basic Laws of the country, which like a constitution underpin Israel’s legal system and are more difficult to repeal than regular laws.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then education minister Gideon Sa’ar (L) attend an award ceremony hosted by the Trump Foundation, at Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem, on December 25, 2012. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

Sa’ar was a rising star in Likud until he took a timeout from politics. Analysts consider him a top contender for the premiership in a post-Netanyahu era, and he enjoys high popularity among Likud activists.

The next elections must take place by November 2019, but recent reports have suggested that Netanyahu is considering taking the country to the polls as early as March amid a series of corruption investigations involving him.

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