Overview & Explanation
National elections to the Knesset, Israel
's parliament, are held once every four
years, unless circumstances call for early
elections. Unlike in the United States, voters in Israel vote for a party and not a specific candidate - the head of the party which garners the most votes is then considered the prime minister and is tasked with forming a government.
Israel 's elections reflect the strong
democratic tradition of the State of Israel.
Election campaigns are a lively affair,
accompanied by vigorous debate of the issues.
Israelis take a great interest in political
affairs, including internal policy and
foreign relations, and actively participate
in the electoral process.
- Electoral System Framework
- Voting & Candidates
- Election Day
- Publication of Results
- Forming a Government
Electoral System Framework
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
- General: On election day, voters
cast one ballot for a political party
to represent them in the Knesset. Every
Israeli citizen aged 18 or older has
the right to vote. Israelis of all ethnic
groups and religious beliefs, including
Arab Israelis, actively participate in
the process and for many years, voting
percentages have reached close to 80
- 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
- Secret: Elections are by secret
- 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 2% of
the total votes cast.
Voting & Candidates
Knesset elections are based on a vote
for a party rather than for individuals,
and the many political parties which compete
for election to the Knesset reflect a wide
range of outlooks and beliefs.
The direct election of the prime minister,
instituted in Israel in 1996, was
abolished under the revised Basic
Law: The Government (2001) and the
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
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 (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), and the court has not specifically
restricted this right (for example, in
the rare case of a person convicted of
Only parties which have been legally
registered with the Party Register, or
an alignment of two or more registered
parties, can present a list of candidates
and participate in the elections. Prior
to the elections, each party presents its
platform, and the list of candidates for
the Knesset, in order of precedence. The
parties select their candidates for the
Knesset in primaries or by other procedures.
Knesset seats are assigned in proportion
to each party's percentage of the total
national vote. A party's surplus votes,
which are insufficient for an additional
seat, are redistributed among the various
parties according to their proportional
size resulting from the elections, or as
agreed between parties prior to the election.
The number and order of members entering
the new Knesset for each party corresponds
to its list of candidates as presented
for election. There are no by-elections
in Israel . Should an MK resign or pass
away in the course of the Knesset term,
the next person on that party's list automatically
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.
No faction may receive a contribution,
directly or indirectly, from any person
or his dependents in excess of the sum
established by law and linked to the Consumer
Price Index. A faction or list of candidates
may not receive a financial contribution
from someone who is not eligible to vote
in the elections.
Elections Committee, headed by a
justice of the Supreme
Court and including
representatives of the parties holding
seats in the Knesset, is responsible
for conducting and supervising the elections.
Regional election committees oversee
the functioning of local polling committees,
which include representatives of at least
three parties in the outgoing Knesset.
Anyone aged 16 or older is eligible to
serve on a polling committee.
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
- negation of the democratic character
of the State;
- incitement to racism.
All citizens aged 18 or older on election
day are eligible to vote. Election day is
a holiday in order to enable all to participate.
Soldiers 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 Israeli citizens
serving on Israeli ships and in Israeli embassies
and consulates abroad.
Publication of Results
Election results are published in the official
gazette eight days after the elections. The
first session of the new Knesset is held
approximately two weeks later and is opened
by the President, who yields the chair to
the oldest member. The Knesset members declare
their allegiance, and the speaker of the
Knesset and his deputies are elected.
Forming a Government
The government (cabinet of ministers) is
the executive authority of the state, charged
with administering internal and foreign affairs,
including security matters. Like the Knesset,
the government usually serves for four years,
but its tenure may be shortened if the prime
minister is unable to continue in office
due to death, resignation or impeachment,
when the government appoints one of its members
(who is a Knesset member) as acting prime
When a new government is to be constituted,
the President of the State, after consulting
with representatives of the parties elected
to the Knesset, assigns the task of forming
the government to a Knesset member. This
Knesset member is usually the leader of the
party with the largest Knesset representation
or the head of the party that leads a coalition
with more than 60 members.
Since a government requires the Knesset's
confidence to function, it must have a supporting
coalition of at least 61 of the 120 Knesset
members. To date, no party has received enough
Knesset seats to be able to form a government
by itself; thus all Israeli governments have
been based on coalitions of several parties,
with those remaining outside the government
making up the opposition.
The Knesset member to whom the task is
assigned has a period of 28 days to form
a government. The President may extend the
term by an additional period of time, not
exceeding 14 days.
If this period (up to 42 days) has passed
and the designated Knesset member has not
succeeded in forming a government, the President
may then assign the task of forming a government
to another Knesset member. This Knesset member
has a period of 28 days for the fulfillment
of the task.
If a government still has not been formed,
an absolute majority of Knesset members (61)
has the option of applying in writing to
the President, asking him to assign the task
to a particular Knesset member. Such a precedent
has yet to occur.
When a government has been formed, the
designated prime minister presents it to
the Knesset within 45 days of publication
of election results in the official gazette.
At this time, he announces its composition,
the basic guideline of its policy, and
the distribution of functions among its ministers.
The prime minister then asks the Knesset
for an expression of confidence. The government
is installed when the Knesset has expressed
confidence in it by a majority of 61 Knesset
members, and the ministers thereupon assume