A guide to the Israeli elections

Al Jazeera takes a look at the Israeli electoral system.

    Israelis will be voting for the 18th Knesset on February 10 [AFP]

    Around 5.3 million Israelis will be eligible to vote in the elections for the 18th Knesset (Israeli parliament) on February 10, 2009.

    All Israeli citizens over the age of 18, irrespective of their race and religion, have the right to vote.  

    Similarly, every citizen aged 21 or older is eligible for election to the Knesset, provided they have no criminal record, do not hold an official position and have not specifically been prohibited by the courts to stand for election.

    Though the Knesset term is for four years, most of the 17 Knessets since 1948 have been unable to complete their terms because of the complexities of coalition politics and Israel's unique election process.

    Proportional representation

    Israel's political system is based on a single electoral constituency, whereby the whole country forms one constituency, and uses proportional representation to elect members of its parliament.

    This means that while a lot of parties may win seats in the Knesset, no single party ever commands a majority and must form a coalition.

    The party that wins the election needs the support of 61 members to form a government. To gain a seat, a party must win a minimum of 2 per cent of the national vote. 

    The main advantage of this system, however, is that it is highly representative. The make-up of the Knesset closely reflects the way people voted. 

    The disadvantage is that a parliament made up of lots of small parties may not be able to provide a stable government.

    Registered parties

    Israelis will be able to choose from 34 registered parties [AFP]

    Only parties registered with the Party Register, or an alignment of two or more registered parties, can participate in the elections.

    There are 34 registered parties competing for seats in the elections on February 10.

    The three main parties are Kadima, Likud and Labour.

    Small parties like the ultra-Orthodox Shas find themselves in the spotlight when big parties are trying to form a coalition. They do not hold many seats, but they can make or break a government.

    Some constitutional experts want the Knesset entry threshold to be raised from 2 per cent to five per cent of the vote.  They say the current system allows small parties to hold the bigger parties to ransom.

    Prior to the elections, parties select their candidates through primaries or by any other procedures they deem fit.

    Each party then presents its agenda, and a list of candidates for the Knesset, in order of precedence to the Central Elections Committee.


    All political parties are eligible for political funding from the state in proportion to their votes. Only eligible voters can contribute an amount below a prescribed ceiling to parties or factions, which for 2009 is 1900 Shekels ($466).

    In 1996, Israeli electoral law allowed for prime ministers to be elected by direct vote.

    However, this was changed in 2001 as it was believed to contribute to instability within parliament.

    A law passed in December 2000 decreed that candidates for prime minister do not have to be members of Knesset, but must be nominated by a party currently represented in the Knesset.

    Once the election results are declared, the Israeli president assigns the task of forming a government to a Knesset member most likely to get the support of more than 60 members to form a majority.

    The strict rules on personal contribution and the transparency of public electoral funding have led to widespread campaign finance irregularities in Knesset elections.

    State comptroller investigations in 2000 uncovered campaign finance violations by almost all parties.

    The 2009 elections were called when Ehud Olmert, the caretaker prime minister, resigned over corruption charges in 2008.

    Tizpi Livni, the foreign minister, who replaced Olmert as the head of the Kadima party in September 2008, was unable to form a new government.

    Voter participation though high in global comparison has steadily declined from a record high of 86.9 per cent in 1949 to 63.5 per cent in 2006.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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