ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF
ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF: ISRAEL NEWS
Israel Elections Facts
1. What are the elections about?
The upcoming national elections in Israel will be held on Tuesday, 22 January 2013. These elections will determine the composition of the 19th Knesset and of the government to be established based on these results.
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 2% of the total votes cast.
4. Who can vote?
Voting is a right granted to every Israeli citizen who has reached the age of 18 or older on election day.
Israelis of all ethnic groups and religious beliefs, including Arab-Israelis, actively participate in the process.
Every eligible Israeli citizen is automatically registered.
5. Can soldiers, the disabled, the infirmed and prison inmates vote?
Soldiers on active duty vote in polling stations in their units. Particular arrangements are made for prison inmates to vote, as well as for those confined to hospitals. Disabled persons who are ambulatory can vote in one of the 1,549 special voting stations designed for accessibility.
6. Are absentee ballots permitted?
Israeli law does not provide for absentee ballots and in general, voting takes place only on Israeli soil. Exceptions are made for Israeli citizens serving abroad on official business who can vote in 96 Israeli embassies and consulates or on Israeli ships.
7. How does voting take place?
The Israeli voting method is user-friendly, even to voters who have limited knowledge of Hebrew and Arabic. Inside the voting booth, voters select a slip of paper that represents their chosen party from an assortment in a tray, put the slip in an envelope and then place the envelope in the ballot box.
Registered voters vote at one of the more than 10,000 polling stations.
8. How are voters identified?
Voters must be identified by one of the following identification cards:
- An official I.D. card (teudat ze’hut) with a picture (issued free to all Israelis from the age of 16);
- A valid Israeli passport with a picture;
- A valid driver’s license with a picture;
- A Knesset member I.D. card.
The Interior Minister may approve identification without a photo I.D. in rare cases, such as Muslim women who wear a veil.
9. What happens on election day?
Election day is a holiday in order to enable all potential voters to participate. Free public transportation is available to voters who happen to be outside their polling districts on this day.
In the upcoming elections, polls will open at 07:00 in the morning of Tuesday, 22 January 2013 and close at 22:00 (10pm). In smaller communities, hospitals and prisons voting takes place between 08:00 and 20:00 (8pm). If all the registered voters have voted at a particular station, that polling station may close early.
Voting may take place earlier in special cases. Polling is held twelve days before election day in Israeli diplomatic mission and ships, while the votes of soldiers may be collected up to 72 hours before election day.
10. When are elections held?
Elections to the Knesset are held every four years, unless one of the following situations occurs:
- The Knesset passes a bill to disperse the Knesset;
- The Knesset has not approved the budget within three months of the start of the financial year;
- The Prime Minister asks the Knesset to disperse;
- A no-confidence vote has passed and a new government has not formed.
The Knesset can also decide, by a special majority of 80 votes, to prolong its term beyond four years if there are special circumstances. This happened once, in 1973, when the elections to the Eighth Knesset were delayed by two months because of the Yom Kippur War.
Like the Knesset, the government is elected 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.
11. 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.
12. Do Israelis vote for parties or individual candidates?
Knesset elections are based on a vote for a party rather than for individuals and the 34 parties that will compete for election to the 19th Knesset reflect a wide range of outlooks and beliefs.
The number and order of members entering the new Knesset for each party corresponds to its list of candidates as presented for election. For example, if a party receives 10 mandates, the first ten candidates on its list enter the new Knesset.
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 Elyakim Rubinstein, 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. The current rate of a financing unit is 1.34 million shekels (approximately USD 350,000). New factions receive a similar allocation, retroactively, based on the number of seats won in the elections.
In the last elections (24 February 2009) the treasury paid out 160 million shekels (approximately USD 38 million) in party financing.
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. An individual household may contribute up to 2,300 shekels (approximately USD 600) in an election year, and 1,000 shekels per year without elections.
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.
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 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.
The direct election of the Prime Minister, was instituted in Israel in 1996. After two election rounds (1996 and 1999), the law was rescinded (2001).
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.