Recent public opinion polls have shown that Netanyahu is preferred as prime minister over Gantz.
By World Israel News Staff
Could Israel be returning to a direct election of a prime minister?
With still no new government in place even after more than 10 months since December 26, 2018, when Israel’s Knesset legislated an early election to take place in April, and then – when no new government was formed – another one called for September, with still no light at the end of the tunnel, an old-new idea has been brought out to the mothballs of Israeli political history.
The idea, supported by MK Miki Zohar of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, would send Israelis to the polls to vote only for prime minister: Netanyahu vs. MK Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White faction.
The proposal was publicly raised on Monday by a prominent member of Netanyahu’s government coalition, MK Aryeh Deri, leader of the religious Shas party.
In addition to Deri and Zohar, the idea is supported by MK Ayelet Shaked, leader of the New Right party, though Netanyahu himself appears apprehensive.
Zohar told the Ynet news website that the Likud would move ahead with legislating a direct election of prime minister.
Israel continues to be ruled by a Netanyahu-led government that has been in power since after the March 2015 election as the country has stumbled through a 2019 of instability.
Through most of Israel’s history, the public has voted only for a party in the national election. The leader of a party who after the election was able to cobble together a parliamentary majority was then crowned as prime minister.
With Netanyahu’s backing before he became premier, the Knesset passed a law in the early ’90s which gave the public the opportunity to vote not only for a party but also directly for prime minister, meaning that no matter the constellation of parties as a result of the Knesset election, the individual winning the vote for premier was the person who formed the government.
In the first such “double” election, Netanyahu defeated Labor Party leader Shimon Peres in 1996.
However, after just a number of years, Israel returned to the one-vote system.
The current stalemate is due to a split parliament: neither Netanyahu nor Gantz has a clear path to a majority. Their parliamentary lists finished tied, 35-35, in the April election, and Blue and White edged the Likud, 33-32, in September. The Knesset has 120 members.
The current proposal, says Zohar, would be to maintain the sitting parliament and vote only for a prime minister. As a result of such a vote, parties would have no choice: either negotiate with the victorious prime minister to join his government or sit in the opposition.
Recent public opinion polls have shown that despite the tight race between the Likud and Blue and White, Netanyahu is preferred as prime minister over Gantz.
Under the old direct election system, Israel did have one such occurrence of a vote for prime minister even as the Knesset remained the same. It happened in 2001, when after a brief but tumultuous term as premier, Labor leader Ehud Barak lost to the Likud’s Ariel Sharon, but the sitting Knesset stayed in office.
That was the last direct election for prime minister. The system was reversed through new legislation, and in the 2003 Knesset election, Sharon emerged victorious again but as a result of a strong Likud showing.