Israeli expat vote plans spark political debate

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sparked political upheaval last week when he revealed that he plans to introduce new legislation that will allow Israeli citizens who are living overseas to vote in Israeli elections.

At present—with the exception of diplomats and mariners– Israeli citizens who are living overseas are not permitted to participate in electoral votes. It is anticipated that over 500,000 Israelis were abroad during last year’s elections and thus half a million potential voters were unable to vote. In order to address this, Netanyahu last week introduced plans to allow such expatriates to participate in the voting process during the next election. Addressing the Likud party, Benjamin Netanyahu voiced his opinion that providing Israeli expatriates with an opportunity to vote would ‘add to the connection with and to the strength of Israel.’

Opposition parties were quick to condemn the Netanyahu’s plans and the premier’s revelations have unleashed a storm of political protest throughout Israel. Leader of the Opposition, Tzipi Livni, responded to the announcement by issuing his own statement which strongly argued against the proposals: “’the right to determine the fate of Israel should be in the hands of those who live in Israel and are prepared to bear the burden of their decisions in the elections – for better or for worse,” He said. Legislator Haim Oron, of the liberal-left Meretz party agreed, stating, ‘it is appropriate for the leadership and face of the country to be determined only by those who live there.
“Life is not a talk back,” he added.

Despite pushback form opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu is continuing with his plans and has declared that there is a commitment in his party to bring the bill to the Knesset by April. On Sunday, however, there were indications that he may back down on his original plans. Likud Faction Chairman MK Zeev Elkin– the man responsible for coordinating the law on behalf of the Likud party– issued further information about the expatriate voting law. He estimated on Sunday that the new law, if passed successfully, will only be applicable to expatriates who have been living or working out of the country for less than a year before the last general elections took place: “As of now, Likud’s stance is that whoever left Israel four or five years ago may vote if they visited the country once (in that time period).”

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