Elections 101: the Political Structure

As Israel heads into elections, it is helpful to review Israel’s political structure. Israel is a parliamentary democracy consisting of legislative executive and judicial branches. The system is based on the principle of separation of powers in which the executive branch (the ruling government) is subject to the confidence of the legislative branch (the Knesset) while the judiciary branch remains independent.

Candidates are elected in this parliamentary system based on nation-wide proportional representation. Eligible voters vote for nationally registered political parties and not specific candidates. Political parties determine their own list of candidates by primaries or appointment.  For a political party to receive representation in the 120-seat Knesset it must receive more than 3.25 percent of the votes. The political parties running in this election will be competing for the votes of Israel’s 5,881,696 eligible voters. Compared to many other countries, Israel has high voter turnout with about 60-80% of eligible voters casting ballots.

After the election, Israel’s president who is currently Reuven Rivlin, selects the Knesset member who is most likely able to put together a coalition of at least 61. This person is given the task of forming a stable government. Most of the time, the person selected is the head of the largest faction. Whoever is chosen has 42 days to negotiate with other parties in attempt to create a viable coalition. This coalition is then presented to the Knesset for a vote of confidence. If the person succeeds in this process, that person officially becomes the prime minister of Israel.

According to law, Knesset elections must be held once every four years, although many governments fall when the Knesset votes to dissolve the government before the government’s term is complete, as is reason why Israel is currently going to elections about two years ahead of schedule.

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