- Elections in Israel
Israel elects its national legislature, the
Knesset, by proportional representationon a national list basis. The Knesset has 120 members, elected for terms of four years. However, most of the elections in the country's history were not held on their scheduled date but after less than 4 years (only one of the last 8 Knesset assemblies completed its full term). Early elections can be called by a vote of the majority of Knesset members, or by an edict of the President, and normally occur on occasions of political stalemate and inability of the government to get the parliament's support for its policy. Failure to get the annual budget bill approved by the Knesset by March 31st (3 months after the start of the fiscal year) also leads automatically to early elections.
The Israeli electoral system has an
electoral thresholdof 2%, making it more favourable to minor parties than systems used in other countries. Israel has a multi-party system and generally no one party is able to form a government, requiring the parties to form coalition governments. In 1992, Israel adopted a system of direct election of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister was directly elected separately from the Knesset in 1996, 1999and 2001. The direct election of the Prime Minister was abandoned after the 2001 election, because it failed to produce more stable governments (the 2001 elections were held less than 2 years after the previous one), and led to further fragmentation of the parliament.
Israel also has a President, but his/her role is essentially a figurehead position, with the real governmental power being in the hands of the Prime Minister.
Every Israeli of age 18 or greater may vote in elections. Any Israeli citizen over 21 may be elected to the Knesset, except holders of several high positions in the civil service and officers or career soldiers (those should resign from their post before the elections), soldiers in compulsory service, and felons who were convicted and sentenced to prison terms exceeding 3 months (until 7 years after their prison term expired).
Elections are overseen by the Central Elections Committee and are held according to the
Knesset Elections Law.
Whilst most countries operating a manual (i.e. paper) voting system use a sheet on which a voter either marks a box for one candidate, or ranks them by number, Israel has a rather unusual balloting method. Upon entry to a polling station, the voter is given an official envelope, and shown to a voting booth. Inside the booth is a tray of ballot papers, one for each party. The voter chooses the relevant paper for their party, puts it in the envelope, seals it, and then places the envelope into the ballot box.
The ballot papers contain minimal information - they are dominated by the "ballot letter(s)" of the party (between one and three letters), with the party name and sometimes a slogan written underneath in small text (see the picture to the right). Each party publicises their letter prior to election day, with most election posters featuring them. As many political parties in Israel are known by their acronyms, several parties can spell out their name in two or three letter, and thus use their name as their ballot letters (e.g. Meretz and Hetz). Others spell out a specific phrase on their ballot.
Ballots are produced in both Arabic and Hebrew, and are distributed appropriately; a voting booth in virtually all-Jewish towns would probably only have Hebrew slips, booths in all-Arab towns would have all Arabic slips, and those in mixed cities such as
Haifawould have both. Parties use the equivalent letters in both languages; for instance Kadimause כן ( Kaph-Nun) in Hebrew and ﻙﻥ (also Kaph-Nun) in Arabic. Although there are around one million Russian speakers in the country, almost the same number as Arabic speakers, there have not as yet been any Cyrillic ballot papers.
The system has the advantage of being incredibly simple to use for those with limited literacy. This is especially important in Israel where many new immigrants struggle with the language, especially reading and writing (as Hebrew uses a unique alphabet), and there are also relatively high illiteracy rates amongst the
Current ballot letters
The following (Hebrew) ballot letters were used in the 2006 election:
Historical ballot letters
The following ballot letters were used by historical parties:
* [http://www.knesset.gov.il/description/eng/eng_mimshal_res.htm Knesset Elections Results] Knesset website en icon
* [http://psephos.adam-carr.net/countries/i/israel/ Adam Carr's election archive]
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