The 1999 Israeli Election:
The framework of the Israeli electoral system is defined in Article 4 of
the Basic Law: The Knesset, which
"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
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
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
All citizens aged 18 or older on election day are eligible to vote,
and a voter registry is prepared and published before the
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
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
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
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
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
(5) the State Comptroller;
(6) the Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense
(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
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
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.
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
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
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.