The Israeli parliament on Wednesday backed on preliminary reading a bill that would allow all citizens to stand for the post of prime minister, opening the way for former right-wing leader Benjamin Netanyahu to do so.
The so-called "Bibi" bill, referring to Netanyahu's nickname, passed by a vote of 67 to 35, with three abstentions.
Israeli radio said the bill could undergo its first reading later Wednesday.
As the law currently stands, Netanyahu is barred from running in the special election for prime minister due to be held in February after Prime Minister Ehud Barak's resignation on Sunday.
The bill aims to change the law that stipulates that only sitting MPs can stand.
Israel's political establishment was thrust into turmoil by Prime Minister Ehud Barak's shock weekend resignation, which sets the stage for a special leadership election in 60 days.
Barak, 58, took the political gamble to try to win a new mandate after almost 11 weeks of deadly Israeli-Palestinian violence that has brought his minority government to its knees.
As the law stands now only sitting members of parliament are eligible to run for prime minister. That bars Netanyahu, who quit politics after his crushing election defeat by Barak in May 1999.
While opinion polls put 51-year-old Netanyahu far ahead of both Barak and Netanyahu's rival for the Likud party leadership, Ariel Sharon, the clock is ticking. There is a December 25 deadline for MPs to present their candidacy for the nation's top job.
But a parliamentary committee decided Tuesday to rush through the legislation, which would normally could not be debated for 45 days after being lodged.
If the so-called "Bibi bills," so named after Netanyahu's nickname, pass their preliminary readings Wednesday, they will undergo another three readings next week.
The committee's move was greeted with outrage by leftwing MPs.
"This is a constitutional crime. It is an attempt to change one of the cornerstones of the Israeli constitution," said Naomi Chazan of the Meretz party.
Netanyahu was given a rousing welcome at a meeting of the Likud's central committee Tuesday, which decided to set primary elections for the following Tuesday.
"Bibi, King of Israel," his supporters chanted.
Sharon told the meeting that if he is elected, he would try to form a national emergency government and offer the post of defense minister to Barak, a former army chief who is the nation's most decorated soldier -- JERUSALEM (AFP)
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