Have you wondered just how Israeli elections work? Perhaps you’re an Oleh Hadash (עולה חדש), or simply someone following the Israeli news from abroad.

I watched all the election coverage, went to the polls, talked to people, and still didn’t fully understand. So I did some research, and I’ll take you through the process step-by-step.*

The Knesset is the Israeli legislative branch.

The Knesset (הכנסת, the assembly) passes all the laws for Israel, elects the heads of states, and supervises the workings of the government. There are 120 seats in the Knesset, meaning that each a 61-seat majority must be reached in order to swear in a new government, and afterwards to effectively push through legislation.

photo credit: knesset.gov.il
The Knesset. photo credit: knesset.gov.il

Israel has a multi-party system.

There are dozens of political parties in Israel, a handful of which hold seats in the Knesset. As no party has ever won a majority in an election, the parties must form coalitions within the Knesset in order to reach that 61-seat majority. For example, Bibi’s Likud party has just won 30 seats. Though Likud won the election, they fall far short of the 61 seats needed to push their agenda through the Knesset. Bibi must form a coalition, an agreement, with other parties to reach that majority. If he forms an alliance with the Zionist Union (24 seats) and, say, Habayit HaYehudi (8 seats) – bam, that’s 62, and Likud’s political agenda will have smooth sailing. Ish.

The final results of the 2015 elections - Seats in the Knesset. graphic credit: Haaretz
The final Knesset seat tally, represented by the heads of the political parties.
graphic credit: Haaretz

However, alliances are tricky. Bougie, leader of the Zionist Union, has said he’s hesitant to join in a coalition with Likud, and without that chunk of seats Bibi will have to work harder to form a coalition.

The Prime Minister

Each party recommends a leader and submits their candidates to the President. The President, largely ceremonially, appoints the candidate who has the best chance of forming a coalition government – this generally means the majority party’s candidate, though if the president doesn’t think the majority party receives enough outside support, he is free to appoint a different candidate for prime minister.

Haaretz writes:

The candidate chosen by the president, after consultation with the Knesset, does not become prime minister until he or she forms a coalition that is confirmed by the Knesset.

The candidate has 42 days to form a coalition (well, 28 days plus a 14-day extension the president can grant). If the candidate fails to win the support of at least 61 MKs in that time, the president can task another candidate with forming a coalition.

[…]

The second candidate has 28 days to form a coalition, with no possibility of extension. The law also provides for the possibility that the second candidate will fail, in which case a majority of MKs can ask the president to task another candidate with forming a coalition in just 14 days. If the third candidate fails as well, the Knesset is dispersed and new elections held within 90 days.

This is what happened in 2009. Tzipi Livni, head of the Kadima party, was first appointed. However, after she failed to form a coalition, the then-president Shimon Peres appointed Bibi, the head of the Likud party, to form a new coalition. Bibi succeeded, and has been prime minister ever since.

How Voting Works

Each Israeli is registered in a certain district, and must vote in person at the polls in their district.

*note: One gaping problem that I noticed is that there is no absentee voting in Israel’s elections. This means that if someone can’t make it to the polls, they can’t vote. Also, Israelis travelling or living abroad can’t vote by mail. Seeing how many Israelis there are abroad (I’ve heard Hebrew in hostels from Istanbul to Ometepe), this severely silences a large number of voters*

At the Polls

You present your ID, are given an official voting envelope, and are allowed to enter the voting booth. There is no electronic voting in Israel; it’s all done with slips of paper and envelopes.

Each political party is identified by a 1-3 letter code. The Likud party is מחל (forgive), the Zionist Coalition is אמת (truth), HaBayit HaYehudi is טב (good), etc. It’s clear that these identifiers aren’t random. Each ballot contains the party code and a brief description of the party.

IMG_1092
Inside the voting booth; Above the ballots hangs a poster translating the party codes into Arabic and Russian, the 2nd and 3rd most spoken native languages in Israel.

The voter then chooses a ballot representing their party of choice, slips it into the envelope, seals it, and places it in the official ballot box.

photo credit: Al Jazeera
photo credit: Al Jazeera

And well, that’s it.

All the votes are counted by hand. Late on the day of election, or the next morning, the final results are tallied and announced on the news.

It’s a new government (ish), and I’m interested to see what happens. This was my first Israeli election!

*If I’ve left anything out, or you have any questions, feel free to contact me. I’m new to this country and I’m eager to learn more, and share what I know already.

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