Prime Minister Menachem Begin's ruling Likud coalition failed today to pass a change in election procedures that could have enhanced Begin's chances for reelection and that certainly would have altered fundamentally Israel's scattershot system of coalition politics.
The change would have raised from 1 percent to 2.5 percent of the total vote in the June 30 general election the mimimum number of ballots required for any party to be elected to the Knesset (parliament). Only parties winning three seats or more would have been represented in the Knesset.
Its immediate effect, according to political parties in parliament from 22 to six or seven. It also would have discouragaed splinter movements in existing parties because disaffected members would not have been able to break away and form new factions unless they have at least two followers in the Knesset.
The 44-37 vote against Begin's coalition was an embarrassing defeat for the Likud and a setback for Haim Corfu, the Knesset Likud whip, who rejected appeals by the six-members Shinui Party to postpone a vote while it studied the measure. Corfu told Shinui, which evenutally might have supported the change, that Likud could easily pass the bill without its support.
The opposition Labor alignment, with 32 Knesset seats, opposed the 2.5 percent election threshold because, traditionally, small factions have tended to side with Labor. Not surprisingly, the small factions were also opposed, since the change would make it virtually impossible for most of them to get reelected.
Under the present system, only between 17,000 and 18,000 votes nationwide are needed to gain a seat in the parliament, meaning that many one-member special interest factions are represented outside of the Labor alignment and Likud coalition, in addition to several other parties ranging from two to five members.
If the change had been adopted, a party would need between 45,000 and 50,000 votes in the general election to win the mimimum three seats.
The Likud supported the measure because it would have neutralized the ultranationalist Tehiya (renaissance) Party led by Geula Cohen and Moshe Shamir, who broke with Begin over the Camp David peace accords. The National Religious Party had an interest in the change because of plans by one of its deputies, Haim Drukman, to form his own party in support of annexing the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Likud strategy had been to try to get rid of the small factions so they would not line up with the Labor Party and give it a better chance of forming a coalition.
"Coalition dealilng is going to be the name of the game this year -- as it is every election. The Labor Party isn't going to win an absolute majority any more that any other party has in the history of the state," a Likud strategist said before today's vote.