The 1999 Israeli Election:
Background Information

The framework of the Israeli electoral system is defined in Article 4 of the Basic Law: The Knesset, which states:

"The Knesset shall be elected by general, national, direct, equal, secret and proportional elections, in accordance with the Knesset Elections Law; this section shall not be varied save by a majority of the members of the Knesset."

  • General: Every Israeli citizen aged 18 or older has the right to vote, and every citizen aged 21 or older is eligible for election to the Knesset. (The president, state comptroller, judges and senior public officials, as well as the chief-of-staff and high-ranking military officers, may not stand for election to the Knesset unless they have resigned their position at least 100 days before the elections.)

  • National: The entire country constitutes a single electoral constituency.

  • Direct: The Knesset, the Israeli parliament, is elected directly by the voters, not through a body of electors.

  • Equal: All votes cast are equal in weight.

  • Secret: Elections are by secret ballot.

  • Proportional: The 120 Knesset seats are assigned in proportion to each party's percentage of the total national vote. However, the minimum required for a party to win a Knesset seat is 1.5% of the total votes cast.

In the past, the task of forming a government and heading it as prime minister was assigned by the president to the Knesset Member considered to have the best chance of forming a viable coalition government in light of the Knesset election results. This resulted in a situation which accorded undue influence to small factions which, in return for their support of the coalition, made demands inconsistent with their relative size. In order to prevent this, in 1992 the Knesset enacted legislation providing for the direct election of prime minister.

The new version of the Basic Law: The Government entered into effect with the 1996 elections, and, together with relevant amendments to the Basic Law: The Knesset and the Knesset Election Law, inaugurated a new electoral system in Israel. For the first time, two separate ballots were cast, simultaneously: one for the political party chosen by the voter to represent him/her in the Knesset, and the other for prime minister.

Elections to the Knesset remain virtually unchanged. Parties represented in the outgoing Knesset can automatically stand for re-election; other parties may present their candidacy by obtaining the signatures of 2,500 eligible voters, officially registering as a party, and depositing a bond, which is refunded if they win at least one Knesset seat. Each party presents its platform and list of candidates for the Knesset, in order of precedence. The different parties select their candidate list by various methods, whether primaries (among registered party members) or selection by a party committee or other body.

Voter Eligibility

All citizens aged 18 or older on election day are eligible to vote, and a voter registry is prepared and published before the election.

Election day is a holiday in order to enable all to participate.

Soldiers and policemen on active duty vote in special polling stations in their units. Special arrangements have also been made for prison inmates to vote, as well as for those confined to hospital.

Israeli law does not provide for absentee ballots, and voting takes place only on Israeli soil. The sole exceptions are official Israeli envoys serving in missions abroad, and members of the Israeli merchant marine.

On January 31, 1999, the Ministry of the Interior placed the register of voters on public display, and announcements were published in the Israeli press, informing the public that toll-free phone lines were open to those who wish to confirm, correct or add to the information appearing therein.

The register is open for public inspection by telephone until February 12, and corrections can be requested until February 14. If the request is not granted, an appeal may be filed before the District Court until March 7. Court fees are waived for such an appeal.

The register contains the names of all eligible voters (citizens who were born no later than June 4, 1981), their address, assigned polling station and its location. The register contains the names of 4,496,515 voters, of whom approximately 673,000 appear for the first time - 493,000 voters who have turned 18 since the last election, and 180,000 new immigrants.

Eligibility Requirements for Knesset Candidates

Every Israel national who on the day of the admission of a candidates list containing his name is 21 of age or over shall have the right to be elected to the Knesset.

However, any individual who has been sentenced to imprisonment for a term of five years or more for an offense against the security of the state and five years have not yet passed since the day when he terminated his period of imprisonment, may not become a candidate for the Knesset.

Where an Israeli citizen is also a citizen of another state, and the law of that state enables his release from its nationality, he cannot be a candidate for the Knesset unless, by the time of the submission of the candidates' list including his name and to the satisfaction of the chairman of the Knesset Central Elections Committee, he has done everything required on his part to be released or that additional citizenship.

In addition, the law specifies that following senior officials cannot not be candidates for the Knesset:

(1) the President of the State;
(2) the two Chief Rabbis;
(3) a judge (Heb: shofet), so long as he holds office;
(4) a judge (Heb: dayan) of a religious court, so long as he holds office;
(5) the State Comptroller;
(6) the Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces;
(7) rabbis and ministers of other religions while holding office for a remuneration.
(8) senior civil service employees and senior army officers (four highest grades)

According to the Basic Law: The Knesset, the Central Elections Committee may prevent a candidates' list from participating in elections if its objectives or actions, expressly or by implication, include one of the following:

negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people;
negation of the democratic character of the State;
incitement to racism.

Eligibility Requirements for Prime Minister

Since the change of the electoral system in 1996, Israel's prime minister is elected by a separate, direct ballot. The ballot is of a different color, and lists only the candidate's name.

The candidate for prime minister may be nominated by:

a party, or parties, with at least 10 seats in the outgoing Knesset
50,000 enfranchised persons

The candidate must be a citizen at least 30 years of age, and head his/her party's list of candidates for the Knesset.

If the outgoing prime minister has served for seven consecutive years, he/she may not stand for re-election.

Registration of Parties

In order for a party to present candidates for election to the Knesset it must be registered as a political party with the Party Registrar, a statutory official who carries out his duties in accordance with the relevant legislation.

Any group of at least one hundred individuals, who wish to register themselves as a political party, must present the registrar with the following:

an official registration request, as required by law,
the party's rules of association, as prescribed by law,
affidavits providing the requisite details for each of the one hundred registrants (name, address, declaration of intent to register, etc.),
documentation from the Ministry of Interior demonstrating the Israeli citizenship of the registrants,
and registration fees and related expenses totalling about 50,000 NIS (approximately $12,500).

New parties wishing to participate in the upcoming Israeli elections must submit their registrations by February 10, 1999 in order to guarantee completion of the registration process by March 30.

Election Finance: Background Information

Allocations to Parties

According to the Party Financing Law, a treasury allocation for election campaigns is granted to each faction at the rate of one pre-defined "financing unit" per seat won in the previous Knesset elections plus one unit per mandate won in the current Knesset elections, divided by two, plus one additional financing unit. New factions receive a similar allocation, retroactively, based on the number of seats won in the elections. A faction which receives more than 1% of the valid votes cast in the Knesset election but not enough to win a Knesset seat is entitled to one "financing unit" to cover its election expenses. (The amount of one (1) Financing Unit for the 1992 Knesset elections was 664,000 NIS.)

Every Faction is entitled to financing of:

1. Expenses incurred during the election campaign, and;

2. Ongoing expenses, on a month to month basis, beginning with the month after the publication of the results of the Knesset elections until the month of the publication of the next Knesset elections.

However, a faction comprising five (5) Members of the Knesset or less may not expend more than ten (10) Financing Units for election expenses. A Faction comprising more than (5) five Members of the Knesset but less than ten (10) Members of the Knesset may not expend more than twice the number of Financing Units per Member of Knesset in the Faction. In addition, a faction comprising ten (10) or more Members of the Knesset may not expend more than twice the the number of Financing Units per the first ten Members of the Knesset in the Faction and one and one half (1 1/2) the number of Financing Units per each additional Knesset Member.

Public Campaign Contributions

No faction may receive a contribution, directly or indirectly, from an individual (i.e. noncommercial entity), in excess of the sum of five hundred (500) NIS from any person or his dependents. In an election year, this sum shall be one thousand (1,000) NIS. (These sums are linked to the Consumer Price Index.)

A faction or may not receive a loan, except from a banking institution. Also, a faction may not receive any funding whatsoever from a commercial entity, corporation or business partnership.

Finally, a faction may not receive a financial contribution from someone who is not eligible to vote in the elections.


The State Comptroller has the right to determine guidelines, for the accountants of the factions, regarding the manner in which faction accounts must be audited.

Every faction must submit to the Speaker of the Knesset its yearly balance sheet and its yearly report of income and expenditures. These documents made open to public examination by the Knesset Speaker.

Tentative Timetable

The following are the dates of selected political and electoral milestones for the 1999 Israeli elections:

January 24: The Meretz Party Council chooses its panel of 27 Knesset candidates.

January 25: The Likud party conducts primary elections for party leadership between incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and former Defense Minister and Foreign Minister Dr. Moshe Arens (Uzi Landau has withdrawn his candidacy) by 170,000 registered Likud members.

February 7: 100 days prior to elections, senior civil servants wishing to become candidates must resign their positions.

February 8: The Likud's list for the Knesset chosen by the 2,700 members of the Likud Central Committee.

February 15: The Labour Party will conduct primary elections for its Knesset list, among the 200,000 registered party members (the Labour candidate for Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, has already been determined).

March 30: Last day for submission of candidacy for prime minister and Knesset (48 days prior to elections).

April 22: Central Elections Committee approves candidates (25 days prior to elections).

May 5: Israeli envoys and seamen abroad cast their ballots (12 days prior to elections).

May 17: Election day.

May 25: Publication of official results.

June 1: Run-off election for prime minister, if necessary

(Note: This list is incomplete - many parties have yet to announce dates for their internal elections.)

Source: Israeli Foreign Ministry.