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‘No absences’: Coalition gears up for battle on eve of Knesset reopening

All coalition MKs told they must be present for the summer session’s first three weeks, without exception; meanwhile, coalition lacks a whip and, potentially, Ra’am’s 4 votes

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

New Hope MK Sharren Haskel in the plenum hall of the Knesset, June 9, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)
New Hope MK Sharren Haskel in the plenum hall of the Knesset, June 9, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)

In anticipation of opening next week’s Knesset session with a depleted roster of only 60 MKs, coalition faction heads on Tuesday released a letter informing their MKs that they must be present for all Knesset plenum sessions during the next three weeks.

A further complication for the ailing coalition is that it still has no whip, following the abrupt departure of former vote wrangler Yamina MK Idit Silman, making it unclear who will be responsible for securing numbers to pass legislation. Additionally, the Islamist Ra’am party is currently on a self-imposed timeout from the coalition, holding back its four votes.

“During the first three weeks of the session’s opening, no absences will be possible, for any reason,” the letter read, in bold and underlined font.

Without a majority in the 120-seat chamber, the coalition needs every member present to advance legislation, a backlog of which remains from the last session.

After the three weeks, all intended absences from a plenum workday – generally Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday – must be approved by coalition management and must include a five-day advance notice and, critically, identification of an opposition MK with whom to pair off to offset each other’s vote.

Offsetting votes is a common Knesset practice, whereby a coalition and an opposition MK cancel out their votes by an agreed-upon mutual absence or abstention. The opposition could choose to limit the use of this tool in order to complicate the coalition’s already tricky path toward turning bills into laws.

In the past, a thin coalition and opposition refusal to grant allowances has led to brutal results, from long nights stuck in the plenum to difficult personal choices. In 2018, then-Likud MK Yehudah Glick was pressured to hasten from his wife’s funeral to the Knesset for a vote, when the opposition declined to offset a vote in favor of the Likud-led coalition.

Ra’am announced a “freeze” in its coalition membership following Ramadan tensions on the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa complex, but has left room for a return to the coalition should it meet Ra’am’s previously issued demands on the budget and the status quo at Al-Aqsa.

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