Former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar denied on Wednesday allegations that he was behind a political scheme designed to keep Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from forming the next coalition in the event general elections are held in early 2019 instead of in November, as planned.

Israel Hayom has learned that Netanyahu recently decided not to call an early election after receiving indications from associates that President Reuven Rivlin does not intend to give Netanyahu the go-ahead to form a coalition, even if Netanyahu’s Likud Party were to win.

By law, once an election is held, the president must pick the member of the newly elected Knesset who he thinks has the best chance of forming a workable coalition. The president makes the decision after consulting with the leaders of the factions of the new Knesset. The law does not stipulate that the MK who eventually forms the coalition must be the leader of the largest faction, and according to the law, the MK need not even be a party leader.

Netanyahu even reportedly shared his concern with a few senior Likud officials before deciding to avoid an early election at any cost until he has time to hold consultations on ways out of the impasse.

One way Netanyahu could overcome this obstacle would be by passing an amendment to the existing statute on elections.

Israel Hayom has also learned that a Likud official with close ties to Rivlin has recently been in talks with two Likud MKs, as well as a media official with ties to Likud, and asked them to cooperate if Netanyahu decided to take a legislative course of action.

Another Likud official who learned about the plan called it “the most rotten trick of all time. It’s a stupid attempt. They know that Netanyahu can’t be replaced in an election, so they are trying anything they can think of to kick him out of office.”

A Likud insider said that “the scheme wasn’t hatched in the President’s Residence, it came from a former senior Likud official, who spoke about it with a number of coalition partners.”

Following the report, Sa’ar tweeted, “In general, I don’t respond to bizarre claims, especially when no one is willing to stand up and say it out loud. But since my name is being bandied about, I am declaring as clearly as possible: there is no truth to the reports. They are completely ridiculous.

“I’m disturbed by the idea that someone is whispering this kind of nonsense in the prime minister’s ear. We will eagerly await any shred of evidence that proves this absurd conspiracy theory,” Sa’ar stated.

According to senior Likud officials, Netanyahu had already decided to call for early elections by passing a law to dissolve the Knesset at the start of the winter session. However, once associates of the prime minister began to see signs that various political players – some in the Likud – were working to keep Rivlin from granting Netanyahu the authority to form a coalition, even though the Likud could wind up being the largest faction in the next Knesset by a considerable margin.

The reported reason for discussing the move was the investigations into various cases of alleged corruption involving Netanyahu, which could supposedly prompt Rivlin to give an MK from another party the job of forming a coalition, or a give it to a Likud MK other than Netanyahu if the Likud scores a decisive win at the polls.

Such a gambit could garner support among the opposition as a way of ousting Netanyahu. Opposition parties could agree to join the next coalition on the condition that Netanyahu is not the one who forms it.

Likud officials said that after it turned out that the matter was being discussed, Netanyahu decided to hit the brakes on an early election and notify all coalition partners, particularly the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism, that he intends to pass a controversial bill on haredi military conscription, thereby avoiding a crisis that would almost certainly bring down the government and prompt an early election.

Rivlin’s office issued a blunt rebuttal to the report on Wednesday morning, calling it “paranoia.”

“We have read the report carefully but found it difficult to find any concrete information, other than a detailed description of paranoia that rests on no actual step or even idea that occurred in reality,” a spokesperson for Rivlin said.

In the next few days, Coalition Chairman MK David Amsalem is expected to present a bill for an amendment that would curtail the president’s latitude in determining who is charged with assembling the coalition.

The amendment would direct the president to give the task of forming a coalition to the party head who gains the support of the largest number of MKs in the newly elected Knesset.

“The idea is bizarre on every level. It’s not democratic or reasonable. I don’t think it will happen or could happen, but sadly things that seem obvious can be given a perverted interpretation and be exploited. Therefore, I will outline a bill that will regulate the matter,” Amsalem said.

“The party head is the most dominant figure and is generally the one who brings the vote for that party. The idea that they could be bypassed and someone else appointed after an election is a kind of revolt. The president has the constitutional authority to act according to common sense, not to manipulate,” Amsalem said.