Israel has passed a controversial electoral law that raises the threshold of votes political parties need in elections to gain representation in parliament, making it harder for small parties to enter the Knesset including groups representing minority Arabs.
Under the revised law, a party would need to take at least 3.25 percent of the vote, up from two percent, to win a seat in parliament.
Introduced by members of the Yesh Atid party and Yisrael Beitenu faction, which are part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, Tuesday’s vote passed 67-0, but was boycotted by all opposition MPs.
Critics called the new law a blow to democracy and said it could lead to minorities being excluded from the legislature.
“The government is taking steps of hatred and exclusion and trying to push certain parties to the sidelines,” the Reuters news agency quoted opposition leader Isaac Herzog of the Labour Party as telling a protest session of opposition legislators.
Arab citizens make up about a fifth of Israel’s eight-million population and they are represented by three Arab parties.
The Arab-led parties Ra’am-Ta’al, Balad, and Hadash, won 11 seats in the 2013 ballot.
However, the new law would mean the Arab nationalist party Balad, which has three MPs, would not have made it into the current Knesset.
Nor would the centre-right Kadima party of Israel’s late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which currently has two seats.
Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, reporting from Jerusalem, said this law would really effect Israeli Arabs. It would “drown out the minority voice that speaks for Israeli Palestinians”, she said.
Supporters of the vote said it would bring greater stability to the government.
Netanyahu told fellow members of his right-wing Likud faction before the vote “the people of Israel need a strong and stable government and governability, and fewer splinter parties”.
Many of Israel’s governing coalitions have fallen or were disbanded before the end of their terms due to unsustainable alliances among ultranationalist, religious, centrist and left-wing legislators.
“This law will allow the government to set a clear agenda,” said Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose Yisrael Beitenu party united with Netanyahu’s Likud ahead of the elections.
That was an allusion to the challenge many cabinets have faced of placating an ideologically divided coalition government.
Israel’s 120 Knesset seats are divided among 12 factions, with no one party ever winning a majority in an Israeli general election.
(Agencies and Al Jazeera – www.aljazeera.com)