Elections in Israel 1999
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."
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, the Knesset in 1992 enacted legislation providing for
the direct election of prime minister.
- 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.
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
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
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 state
comptroller reviews the disbursement of all campaign expenditures.
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 list of candidates may not receive a
financial contribution from someone who is not eligible to vote in the
The Central 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
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
- negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of
the Jewish people;
- 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
The results of the elections shall be published within fourteen days from
election day. Knesset seats are assigned in proportion to each party's
percentage of the total national vote. The minimum required for a list to
win election to the Knesset is 1.5% of the total number of valid votes cast. 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.
Should the results of one election -- for Knesset or prime minister -- be
contested, this will not affect the results of the other.
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
DIRECT ELECTION OF THE PRIME MINISTER
Israel's prime minister is elected in
the national general elections, 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, or by 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.
Upon publication of the results of the elections for prime minister, the
candidate who receives more than half of the valid votes becomes the elected
- Should no candidate receive more than half the valid votes, run-off
elections will be held between the two candidates with the most votes
14 days after the first round of elections. In the return elections,
the candidate receiving the largest number of valid votes will become
- Should one of the candidates die or become unable to participate in
the run-off elections for health reasons, another may be nominated by
his party, no later than 96 hours before the scheduled elections.
However, should one of the candidates in the run-off elections resign,
the next candidate with the next largest number of valid votes shall
replace him in the run-off.
- Should there be only one candidate for prime minister, in either round
of elections, the vote shall be cast for or against such candidacy. If
the number of valid votes for the candidate is higher than the number
of valid votes against - the candidate is elected.
- Should no candidate be elected, new elections will be held for prime
Within 45 days of the publication of the election results, the prime
minister-elect will present his/her list of ministers and basic policy
guidelines before the Knesset, asking for its confidence. The number of
ministers, including the prime minister, may not exceed eighteen, nor be
less than eight. At least half of the ministers must be Knesset members,
but all must be eligible for Knesset membership. Deputy ministers may be
appointed, up to a total of six, and must be Knesset members. (Under the
law, the Knesset may remove a minister from his post by vote of a majority
Should the prime minister elect fail to present a government to the
Knesset, special elections for prime minister will be held within 60 days.
Should the same candidate once again be elected and once again fail to
present a government within 45 days, that candidate may not stand for
election in the third round of elections for prime minister.
The prime minister's term of office corresponds to that of the Knesset,
except when Knesset elections must be repeated (i.e. as a result of faulty
elections) or where the law calls for special elections for prime
HOW DOES THE KNESSET WORK?
A new Knesset begins to function after general elections. The first
session 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.
The Knesset holds two sessions a year, one in the winter and one in the
summer, which together must last for at least eight months. An
extraordinary session may be called during recess, either by the
government or by any 30 members of Knesset.
The Knesset is elected for a tenure of four years, but may dissolve itself
or be dissolved by the prime minister before the end of its term. Unless
early elections are called, elections to the Knesset take place on the
third Tuesday of the month of Heshvan in the year in which the tenure of
the outgoing Knesset ends.
With the inauguration of direct elections for prime minister, procedures
for dissolving the Knesset were amended.
New elections for the Knesset and the prime minister, are held when:
- The Knesset rejects the list of ministers proposed by the prime minister (wihtin 45 days of the elections;
- The Knesset expresses no-confidence in the prime minister, by a
majority of at least 61 MKs;
- The Knesset fails to adopt the Budget Law within three months after
the beginning of the fiscal year;
- The Knesset dissolves itself by passing a special law to that
- The prime minister, after notifying the President, resigns and
dissolves the Knesset (e.g. if a "hostile" Knesset prevents the proper
functioning of the government).
Special elections for the prime minister are held when:
- The Knesset (by a special majority of 80 members) votes to remove
the prime minister from office;
- The Knesset removes the prime minister from office (by a majority
vote) due to conviction on an offense involving moral turpitude;
- The prime minister is unable to appoint the specified minimum of eight
ministers to form his government;
- The prime minister has died, or is permanently unable to fulfill his