The Relations between the Coalition and the Opposition in the New Knesset: Restoring the Crown to its Former Glory
With regards to the relations between the Coalition and the Opposition in the new Knesset - we must restoring the crown to its former glory
The presence in parliament of a coalition and an opposition are a fundamental element of democracy. The relations between them are based on recognition of the Government’s legitimacy, but also on the Coalition’s acknowledgement that an "alive and kicking" Opposition is essential for a functional democracy.
Alas, in the last Knesset, the relationship didn't work. The most extreme example was the Knesset Committees: In reaction to a Coalition proposal that would slightly harm the representation of Opposition members serving on the committees, the Opposition factions of the rightwing and ultra-Orthodox bloc boycotted the committees. This also totally paralyzed two committees that are required to include MKs from the opposition—the Ethics Committee and the State Control Committee.
Another example relates to the Opposition’s increased use of the filibuster to drag out debate on bills, a maneuver that created a veritable traffic jam in the plenum. In reaction, the Coalition made inflated use of Section 98 of the Knesset Bylaws, which can be used to impose a time limit on debates. In the last Knesset, we also saw repeated refusals by MKs to offset the absence of MKs from the other side of the floor, even when the latter’s absence from the plenum was fully justified (such as due to medical issues), the failure by the leader of the Opposition to meet with the Prime Minister for updates on a monthly basis in accordance with to the Knesset Law, a drastic deterioration in the level of parliamentary discourse, and more.
These problems seriously detracted from the Knesset’s ability to do its job in matters of legislation, oversight of the executive branch, and appropriate representation of all sectors of the public.
The new Knesset must behave differently. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, but only to go back to the rules that always prevailed in the past, along with several necessary changes. Here are a few fundamental principles that can serve as the basis for this return to normalcy:
First, the principle of proportional representation on Knesset committees must be preserved. For example, if the Coalition includes 61 members, the division of seats should provide it with a majority of one on every committee.
Another principle that should be restored is the custom of recent Knessets that Opposition MKs chair not only the State Control Committee but also several others, such as (recently) the Economic Affairs Committee, the Information and Technology Committee, and the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality. On this front, the new Knesset should discuss whether (or not) to adopt the model followed in several advanced democracies that formally mandates the affiliation of certain committee chairs with the Coalition or Opposition. The long-time practice of allotting the Opposition a place on the Judicial Appointments Committee should also be maintained.
On the other hand, Opposition MKs should participate actively on all committees. To quote the president of the Supreme Court, “The lack of agreement about what the Coalition is doing cannot justify Knesset members’ ignoring their obligation to represent the interests of those who on their behalf they were elected on Knesset committees." Here consideration should perhaps be given to statutory solutions to future situations in which the Opposition boycotts Knesset committees.
In addition, the opposition must make proportionate and reasonable use of the filibuster. For its part, the Coalition should curtail reliance on Article 98 of the Knesset bylaws and impose a gag rule only in those exceptional, urgent, and important cases for which it was intended, that is, when unlimited debate would bring the Knesset’s work to a standstill.
Proper relations between the Opposition and the Coalition must also be demonstrated in the legislative process. Especially with regard to laws that have broad constitutional, social, and political implications, there must be serious discussions in the Knesset, including voices from the public, academia, and other sectors. In particular, there must not be a repetition of the overnight legislative blitz we saw in recent Knessets, such as the 2020 law to create the Rotation Government.
Finally, MKs need to restrain their language and return to the era of dialogue between the Coalition and the Opposition. This applies both to formal consultations, such as the monthly updates provided by the Prime Minister to the Opposition leader, and to informal understandings such as offsetting the absence of an MK by pairing on votes.
The new Knesset can repair some of the flaws that have beset Israeli politics in recent years. It can serve a full or almost full term and thereby restore stability. It can also bring back normalcy to the relations between the Opposition and the Coalition: The Government’s role is governing; the Opposition’s- criticism and oversight.
Dr. Assaf Shapira is the Director of the Political Reform Program at the Israel Democracy Institute