The winding road to power in Israel: How elections actually work
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Countdown to April 9

The winding road to power in Israel: How elections actually work

Dozens of parties are competing for 120 Knesset seats, and a would-be PM has to band together a multi-party coalition. But first, the president has to make a decision…

A worker prepares ballot boxes March 25, 2019 at the Central Elections Committee warehouse in Shoham, before they are shipped to polling stations for the April 9 Israeli election. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
A worker prepares ballot boxes March 25, 2019 at the Central Elections Committee warehouse in Shoham, before they are shipped to polling stations for the April 9 Israeli election. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Israel will hold general elections on April 9. Here are some facts about the process:

Dozens of parties

Israel’s system of proportional representation allows small parties a chance of getting a seat in the 120-member Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

There is, however, a barrier to the very smallest, as a party must win at least 3.25 percent of total votes cast (translated to 4 seats) to enter the legislature.

This leads political minnows to band together in tactical alliances giving them a better chance of breaking the barrier.

This year 41 alliances or individual parties are competing for the attention of just over 6.3 million eligible voters, according to the central elections committee website. Israeli citizens aged 18 and over can vote.

A man walks past campaign posters bearing the portraits of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz (R), one of the leaders of the Blue and White party, in Tel Aviv on April 3, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Turnout in the 2015 election was 72.3%.

Each contending group lists its candidates in order of precedence, decided either in party primaries or by an internal committee.

The number of seats allocated to each list is calculated according to the percentage of votes won.

For example, if a party or alliance wins 15 seats, the first 15 on its list become lawmakers.

Coalition-building

The plethora of parties means that none are likely to win a 61-seat Knesset majority so after the votes are counted, the horse-trading begins, as the larger parties or alliances woo the smaller groups in an attempt to build a working coalition.

View of a plenum session of the Knesset, July 2, 2018. (Flash90)

The president of Israel, currently Reuven Rivlin, is tasked with quizzing all parties after the results are declared and hearing who they recommend to try and form a government.

On the basis of those talks he asks the person he judges has the best chance, which may not necessarily be the leader of the largest party.

In 2009, the centrist Kadima party won the most seats but was unable to put together a ruling coalition.

View of election campaign posters showing Benny Ganz (R), head of Blue and White party, and late Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (L), in Jerusalem on April 2, 2019, prior to the Israeli general elections to be held April 9 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The task went to Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud, which had won a single seat less than Kadima but was able to put together a coalition.

Netanyahu, who had previously been premier between 1996 and 1999, retained power in 2013 and 2015 elections and is seeking a fifth term this time.

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