Thursday, August 6, 2009

Bibi is Master of the House

The challenge of any government is the ability to guide legislation through parliament into law. Government's that are unable to pass legislation becomes dysfunctional and useless. A government that can ram through any legislation they want with little to no opposition comes close to the brink of a dictatorship. The balance between the needs of the majority and caring for the minority fall somewhere in the middle .

Two weeks ago Benjamin Netanyahu fell into the embarrassing situation of being unable to pass key legislation. He has been trying to overhaul the entire system for land ownership and had to move some huge hurdles with different organizations such as JNF. When it came time for the key vote, members of the government were hiding in the lunch room to avoid voting against the government. The legislation had to be pulled in order to not be defeated on the Plenum floor. The political maneuvering used up time preventing the Mofaz Bill from being passed.

On Monday an extra session of Knesset gave Bibi a second chance to show he was in control of the Prime Minister's chair. He was able to get enough MKs on board to pass both pieces of legislation. Even the opposition parties gave up on taking full advantage of the time allocated for a full blown fillibuster.

The land transfer legislation is very complicated. The challenge is to correctly guess which of the unintended consequences are going materialize. There is plenty of reason to be concerned. Hopefully in practise this will turn out to be mostly an administrative change with little impact on Israeli society.

The Mofaz Bill is intended to give the Prime Minister more flexibility to hold power. Before this law was passed it took 1/3 of MKs from any party to cross the floor. The Mofaz Bill allows a minimum of 7 MKs to cross the floor for parties with 21 or more MKs. In a political system with little to no individual accountability to the voters this hurts the democratic process. It makes it easier for MKs to abandon those who voted for them. Placed high enough on the party list and they could keep their jobs despite political backlash. The unintended consequence of this law, that it is also easier for a faction to abandon the government. All coalitions are so fragile that such a move would collapse the government.

For better or for worse the legislation has passed. Bibi has once again shown he is a skilled politician. As Prime Minister he will take the country in the direction he sees fit, despite the opposition. Let's just hope he is taking it in the right direction.

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