Let the people choose: Netanyahu backs direct PM election to avert 3rd vote
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Let the people choose: Netanyahu backs direct PM election to avert 3rd vote

Long-shot proposal, opposed by Gantz, would likely be challenged by High Court of Justice as it would entail far-reaching reforms enacted by a caretaker government

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Ramat Gan on September 10, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Ramat Gan on September 10, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday night that he would support a proposal for direct elections for prime minister in a bid aimed at averting a third round of full-blown national elections in under a year.

In a statement blaming his Blue and White party rivals for the ongoing impasse toward forming a government, Netanyahu said he would support solving the deadlock with a direct vote for the premiership, pitting himself against Blue and White head Benny Gantz.

“It’s not yet too late,” Netanyahu said of the possibility that his Likud party and Blue and White reach a deal in the final four days remaining before elections are automatically called on December 11.

“But if [the Blue and White leadership] do not come together and do not form a national unity government, there is one more thing that can be done to prevent unnecessary elections for the Knesset — to introduce a direct election for the prime minister between Benny Gantz and myself,” the prime minister said. “In Blue and White they say they know what the people want, so I’m in favor of the people deciding and no one else.”

After neither Netanyahu nor Gantz secured a majority of seats together with their respective allies in the September election, both expressed their support for a unity government including their respective parties, but talks between them have failed to result in a coalition and they have traded blame for the deadlock.

Blue and White party chairman MK Benny Gantz during a faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on December 2, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Blue and White responded Saturday night to Netanyahu’s statement, saying that, “We are engaged in preventing costly and unnecessary elections and not hollow spins to restore a system of elections that … failed miserably.”

The party said that the idea was a “hollow proposal that aimed at diverting fire from Netanyahu, accused in three serious corruption cases, who is the only person responsible for dragging the State of Israel for the third time” to a vote.

Last month, the New Right party presented a long-shot plan to President Reuven Rivlin to enact electoral reforms that would see the introduction of direct elections for the prime ministership.

The proposal, however, would likely face a formidable legal challenge from the High Court of Justice as it would entail sweeping reforms by a caretaker government during an election campaign.

Last month, Shas chairman Aryeh Deri raised the idea, saying that a direct public vote for prime minister between Netanyahu and Gantz could prevent a third, full Knesset election in a year. Netanyahu, however, was said to have rejected the move out of hand, suggesting that it would not solve the impasse. A source close to Netanyahu was quoted by the Kan public broadcaster as calling the proposal “stupid” at the time.

While a direct election for prime minister would automatically determine who would form the government, it would not change the coalition arithmetic, and the winner would still need to form a coalition from the same parties elected in September.

Israel briefly experimented with direct elections for prime minister in the 1990s — Netanyahu’s first election to the premiership, when he defeated Shimon Peres in 1996, was also Israel’s first direct election for prime minister.

However, Israel reverted back to voting for parties, rather than individuals, five years later because it proved too hard to form a coalition following the vote.

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