Israel's top court orders parliament to vote on new speaker

Israel Materials 24 March 2020 08:45 (UTC +04:00)

Israeli Supreme Court on Monday ordered the parliament to hold a vote for electing a new speaker, in a move widely seen as a blow to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's attempt to hold on to power.

A three-justice panel criticized Parliament Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a Netanyahu ally, for shutting down parliament for five days and refusing to hold a vote to elect a new speaker.

The panel, headed by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Esther Hayut, unanimously ruled that Edelstein must hold the vote no later than Wednesday.

The unprecedented ruling came after Edelstein told the court he will not hold the vote, saying he was not accepting "ultimatums" from the court.

"The continued refusal to allow the Knesset (parliament) to vote on the selection of a permanent speaker is undermining the foundations of the democratic process," Hayut wrote in the ruling.

Edelstein "harmed" the parliament's status as an independent authority and the due process of government transition, she wrote.

Edelstein suspended the parliament on Wednesday, citing procedurals hurdles and fears about the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Likud lawmakers lashed out at the Supreme Court, calling Edelstein to defy the ruling.

The centrist Blue and White party, Netanyahu's main opposition party, wants to replace Edelstein in the wake of the March 2 elections. Backed by a two-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset, the party petitioned to the court to force Edelstein to reopen the parliament.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz accused the Likud of attempting "to violate Israeli democracy" by halting the parliament's work.

Israel is facing a parliamentary crisis as the elections on March 2, the third within a year, once again failed to produce a clear majority by either Netanyahu or Gantz.

At the same time, the nation is struggling to halt the rapid spread of the COVID-19 outbreak. The total number on confirmed infections rose to 1,442 on Monday.