The Dissolution of the 16th Knesset

(November 22, 2005)

by David Krusch

The Knesset announced that national elections will be held on March 28, 2006. The announcement came after hours of negotiations between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, President Moshe Katsav, Attorney General Menahem Mazuz, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Law Committee Chairman Michael Eitan.

On November 21, 2005, Sharon asked Katsav to issue an order to dissolve the 16th Knesset and call for new elections. After the order is given, the president must wait for a period of 21 days to see if 61 MKs can recommend appointing someone to replace Sharon. If there is no consensus on a replacement, the elections will be held on the last Tuesday before 90 more days expire.

Sharon's request to Katsav was a strategic political move to help bolster his new National Responsibility party. If the Knesset dissolved the government, then it would still have the power to oversee and approve or disapprove Sharon's cabinet choices. If Katsav acted first, Sharon would have the power to shuffle his cabinet as he sees fit prior to elections.

Meanwhile, many members of the Labor Party have resigned their posts, leaving several cabinet positions open. If Likud members also resign from their posts, that would leave Sharon with only five ministers, which could mean that the government could not effectively function.

On November 22, 2005, Katsav took the unprecedented step of asking the Knesset to freeze pending bills to disperse the Knesset. He did this after reaching a compromise with Knesset leaders who agreed to allow Sharon to appoint new ministers to fill posts vacated by Labor ministers in exchange for agreeing to an election date set by the Knesset.

Sharon preferred an early election date, March 7, to capitalize on his current popularity and minimize the risk of his new party losing support as its novelty wears off, as has been the case in the past when popular officials have formed new parties. New Labor Party leader Amir Peretz preferred March 28, while the Likud Party wanted to hold elections in May to give it more time to find a new party chairman and rally around him.

Source: Dan Izenberg, “Q & A: The end of the 16th Knesset,” The Jerusalem Post (November 22, 2005)