A bill to dissolve the 19th Knesset passed in the Knesset plenum on Monday, December 8, 2014 by unanimous vote. Elections to the 20th Knesset will be held on March 17, 2015.
1. What do Israelis vote for in elections?
The upcoming national elections in Israel will be held on March 17, 2015. These elections will determine the composition of the new Knesset and of the government to be established based on these results. 26 parties have submitted lists of candidates to the Central Elections Committee.
Israel is a parliamentary democracy. The Prime Minister, who heads Israel’s government, is chosen from among the members of the newly-elected Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
2. What are Israeli elections like?
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 great interest in political affairs, including internal policy and foreign relations, and actively participate in the electoral process.
3. What are the basic principles of Israel’s election process?
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."
- General: Every Israeli citizen aged 18 or older on election day has the right to vote.
- National: The entire country constitutes a single electoral constituency. In Israel’s proportional representation system, candidates represent national parties and not electoral districts or local constituencies.
- Direct: The Knesset, the Israeli parliament, is elected directly by the voters, not through a body of electors. On election day, voters cast one ballot for a single political party to represent them in the Knesset.
- 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 threshold for a party to be represented in the Knesset is currently 3.25% of the total votes cast.
12. Who is eligible for elected office?
Every citizen aged 21 or older is eligible for election to the Knesset, unless they are excluded by one of the exceptions under the law.
Examples of exceptions include:
- An individual who holds a senior official position: the President, a Chief Rabbi, the 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 before the elections in the period specified by law;
- Cases where a court has specifically restricted this right by virtue of a law.
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 Israel;
- Incitement to racism.
This decision can be appealed to the Supreme Court, which has reversed decisions by the Central Elections Committee.
13. What is the Central Elections Committee?
The Central Elections Committee is responsible for conducting and supervising the elections. It is headed by a Justice of the Supreme Court, currently Justice Salim Joubran, and includes representatives of the parties holding seats in the outgoing Knesset.
14. What do polling committees do?
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.
15. What must parties do before the elections?
Prior to the elections, each party submits its list of candidates for the Knesset (in order of precedence).
The parties select their candidates for the Knesset in primaries or by other procedures.
Only registered parties or an alignment of two or more registered parties can present a list of candidates and participate in the elections.
16. How are campaigns financed?
a. The State of Israel covers most of the parties’ budgets and only a small fraction of party financing originates from sources other than the state budget.
According to the Party Financing Law, a treasury allocation for election campaigns is granted to the factions. Each faction receives an allocation at the rate of one pre-defined "financing unit" per seat won in the previous Knesset elections plus retroactively one unit per mandate won in the new Knesset, 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.
b. The law concerning non-public financing, such as membership dues and contributions, is extremely strict and limiting
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, such as foreign nationals who do not also hold Israeli citizenship.
Corporations are not allowed to make donations to parties.
17. How do campaign ads meet the principle of equal opportunity?
Election broadcasts begin on television 21 days before the elections. All election advertising is broadcast free of charge on television and radio, although the parties are responsible for preparing the advertisements at their own expense. Under the principle of equal opportunity, it is prohibited to purchase broadcasting time.
The Election Law contains strict rules regarding the timing, length and content of television and radio election broadcasts. Parties participating in the elections receive broadcasting minutes according to a formula set in law. Each is given a basic and equal allocation of minutes for broadcasts on television and radio. Factions which have candidates who served in the outgoing Knesset are allocated an additional amount of time based on their number of former Members of Knesset (MKs).
For example, each party receives 7 basic minutes of advertising on television and an additional 2 minute per former MK. On radio, each party list receives 15 basic minutes and 4 additional ones per outgoing MK. Parties are also limited in the amount of inches of election advertising they can print in newspapers.
Other restrictions on advertising include:
- No use of children under the age of 15;
- No use of the IDF that creates the impression that the army identifies with a particular party;
- No use of the names or images of victims of terrorism without their permission or that of their surviving family.
18. How is the Knesset formed?
Knesset seats are assigned in proportion to each party’s percentage of the total national vote.
The number and order of members entering the new Knesset for each party corresponds to its list of candidates as presented for election. However, each party must receive at least a certain percentage of the votes to enter the Knesset. Currently, the minimum qualifying threshold to be elected is 3.25% of the total votes cast.
A party’s surplus votes, which are insufficient for an additional seat, can be transferred to another party according to agreements made between them prior to the election. If no agreement exists, the surplus votes are distributed according to the parties’ proportional sizes in the elections.
19. How is the Prime Minister chosen?
The Prime Minister is selected from among the elected Knesset members. The President of the State assigns the task to the Knesset member considered to have the best chance of forming a viable coalition government in light of the Knesset election results.
20. How is the government formed?
a. The government (cabinet of ministers) is the executive authority of the state, charged with administering internal and foreign affairs, including security matters.
b. When a new government is to be formed, 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 of more than 60 members.
c. 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 single 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. Those remaining outside the government compose the opposition.
d. 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. There are no further extensions.
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.
e. 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 guidelines 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. Then the new ministers assume their offices.
Like the Knesset, the government is chosen for four years. Its tenure may be shortened if the Prime Minister is unable to continue in office due to death, resignation, permanent incapacitation, impeachment or if the Prime Minister ceases to function as a member of the Knesset. However, the government may appoint one of its other members who is a Knesset member as acting Prime Minister.