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Archive for Monday, February 5, 2001

Early collapse of Knesset predicted after Israel election

February 5, 2001

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— Israelis have yet to vote in Tuesday's prime ministerial election, but they already are bracing for another election within the year.

It's one more reason that a number of Israelis are pushing to change the way governments are elected here.

When Ehud Barak resigned in December, he pre-empted dissolution of the Knesset and a full parliamentary vote. Instead, Israelis will vote in a special direct election only for the prime minister. But likely winner Ariel Sharon will face the same fractious and ideologically divided parliament that Barak did.

Estimates on how long Sharon will be able to govern with that same lineup range from two months to a year still far short of the two and a half years left in the Knesset's current mandate.

Many politicians and professors now wish to abolish the direct election for prime minister and return to the previous system, in which citizens cast just one vote for a party, and the leader of the largest party would form the government.

They warn that Israel's current election system is threatening the country's democracy by causing frequent domestic upheaval at the same time as the country faces external threats, most recently violence from a new Palestinian uprising.

"Italy with the problems of Bosnia," columnist Nahum Barnea warned Sunday in the daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. About 380 people, most of them Palestinian, have been killed in a cycle of violence that broke out in late Sept.

"The electoral system is a disaster for this country, a cancer eating away at the system," said Gadi Wolfsfeld, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "It makes it impossible for the prime minister to govern with stability."

Those who predict an early Knesset collapse after Tuesday's election say the deadline for a national budget by late March will force a confrontation. Politicians who favor Sharon's get-tough approach to peace and security with the Palestinians may then face their first challenge from opposition members who are anxious to return to negotiations and willing to make the territorial concessions floated by Barak in recent peace talks with the Palestinians.

Those who predict a longer period between elections say the parties won't have time to have internal primaries by late March and the Knesset's Passover recess in April and extended summer recess make it more likely that new elections will take place in November.

As the campaign enters its last day, the wildly differing reactions to Sharon can be seen on competing banners lining the highways of the Galilee. "Sharon will bring peace" and "Sharon will bring disaster," which rhyme in Hebrew.

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