Israel has an electoral system based on nation-wide proportional representation,
and the number of seats which every list receives in the Knesset is proportional to the
number of voters who voted for it. The only limitation is the 2% qualifying threshold.
In other words, a party must receive at least 2% of the votes in order to be elected.
According to this system, the voters vote for a party list, and not for a particular person
on the list. Since the institution of the primaries system in some of the parties, these
parties directly elect their candidates for the Knesset. Some of the parties elect their
candidates via the party's institutions. In the ultra-religious parties their spiritual
leaders appoint the candidates. The Knesset elections take place once every four years,
but the Knesset or the Prime Minister can decide to hold early elections, and under certain
circumstances can serve for more than four years.
The Electoral System
Israel has an electoral system based on nation-wide proportional representation.
In other words, the number of seats that each list receives in the Knesset -
the House of Representatives - is proportional to the number of votes it received.
Unlike most of the Western parliamentary democracies, the system in Israel is followed
in an extreme manner, and the only limitation on a list which participated in the
elections being elected is that it should pass the qualifying threshold, which is
currently 2%. (Until the elections to the 13th Knesset the qualifying threshold
was only 1%. During the 16th Knesset, the law changed the threshold from 1.5% to 2%.).
The State of Israel inherited the rigid system of proportional representation from
the political system of the yishuv (the organized Jewish community) in mandatory times.
This system was based on the zeal with which the various political parties - in which
ideology and personalities played a major role - fought to preserve their independence.
The justification given for the large number of parties resulting from the system was,
that in a period in which major, far-reaching and rapid changes were still taking place
in the population make-up as a result of immigration, it was important to enable maximal
representation for various groups and opinions.
The Legal Basis for the System
The electoral system is based primarily on two laws: the Basic Law: the Knesset of 1958
and the Knesset Elections Law (combined version) of 1969. Since the Parties Law of 1992
was passed, only registered parties can present a list of candidates and participate in
The Principles Upon Which the Electoral System is Based
The general framework for the elections was laid down in article 4 of the Basic Law:
The Knesset, and according to it the Knesset is to be elected in general, country-wide,
direct, equal, secret and proportional elections. This article can only be amended by a
vote of a majority of the Knesset members.
The principle of the generality of the elections ensures the active right of every
Israeli citizen, who is at least 18 years old, to vote and the right of every
Israeli citizen, who is at least 21 years old, to be elected. Even though the
Basic Law: The Knesset gave the legislature the power to deny the right to vote
to anyone as it may see fit, the Knesset has never made use of this power.
Those holding certain official positions, such as the
President of the State,
the State Comptroller, judges or dayanim,
career officers, and senior civil servants, may not stand for election to the Knesset.
However they can contend if they resign from their post 100 days or 6 months before
the elections, depending on the public position, as the law specifies.
The principle of country-wide elections states that Israel is a single electoral
district insofar as the distribution of Knesset seats is concerned.
Direct elections mean that the voter elects the Knesset directly, rather than
an electoral college (as is the case in the election of the President in the
United States). Equal elections apply to equality amongst the votes given, and
the Supreme Court laid down that the principle
of equality relates to equality of opportunities for all the lists participating
in the elections as well.
The principle of secrecy ensures fairness in the elections and aspires to prevent
the placing of effective pressure on voters, since no one has any way of knowing
how they actually voted. The principle of proportionality manifests itself in
that all the lists, which get past the qualifying threshold, are represented in
the Knesset by a number of members which is proportional to their electoral strength.
The Frequency of Elections
The Knesset elections are supposed to take place every four years.
The Knesset can decide, by an ordinary majority, to dissolve itself and call for
early elections. Under the direct vote for Prime Minister system, the
Prime Minister could notify the President of early elections. After the abolishment
of that system, the Prime Minister can recommend to the President to call for
early elections, but the Knesset can block that initiative.
The elections to the Second (1951),
Fifth (1961), Tenth
(1981), Eleventh (1984), Thirteenth
(1992), Fourteenth (1996),
Fifteenth (1999), Seventeenth (2006),
and Eighteenth (2009) Knessets were all held before
the due date by the Knesset's initiative. The elections for the Sixteenth
Knesset were brought forward by the initiative of the Prime Minister.
The Knesset can also decide, by a special majority, to prolong its term
beyond four years. This happened in the case of the elections to the
Eighth Knesset (1973) which were delayed because of the Yom
In either case of delayed or early elections, the newly formed Knesset is
meant to serve a full four-year term from the date of elections as determined by
the law, regardless of the election date.
Who Can Participate in Elections?
The contest in the elections is among lists of candidates. Since the Parties Law was
passed in 1992, only a party, which has been legally registered with the Party Registrar,
or an alignment of two or more registered parties, which have decided to run in the elections
together, can present a list of candidates and participate in the elections (for example, in
the elections for the fifteenth Knesset, the list "One Israel" was composed of three parties;
Labor, Gesher and Meimad). A party can informally add to its list bodies or personalities
that are not members of the party and that are not registered themselves as a party (for
example, in the elections for the fifteenth Knesset, the Unified Arab List included contenders
from the Democratic Arab Party, a registered party, and
individuals from the Islamic Movement, a non-registered party). The following
lists may not run in the elections: A list which
acts directly or indirectly against the existence of the State of Israel as the state of
the Jewish people or against its democratic nature; a list which incites racism; a list
which supports the armed struggle of an enemy state or a terrorist organization against the
State of Israel.
The Distribution of Seats Among the Lists
The lists that have passed the qualifying threshold receive a number of Knesset
seats which is propotional to their electoral strength. This is done by the
division of valid votes given to the lists which passed the qualifying threshold,
by 120, in order to determine how many votes entitle a list to a single seat.
In the elections to the second and seventh Knessets the excess votes
(the votes received by a list which passed the qualifying threshold, but are not
sufficient for a whole seat) were distributed to those lists which had the
largest number of excess votes (the Hare method). In the elections to the
First Knesset, and since the elections to the Eighth Knesset, the excess votes are
distributed to the lists with the largest number of voters per seat - a
method known in the world as Hagenbach-Bischoff (de-Hondt), and is known in
Israel as the Bader-Ofer method - named after MKs Yohanan Bader (Gahal) and
Avraham Ofer (Alignment) who proposed its adoption. Two lists can reach an
agreement regarding the distribution of excess votes between them before the
Who is Elected to the Knesset?
The candidates of any given list are elected to the Knesset on the basis of
the order in which they appear on it. If a certain party received sufficient
votes for 10 seats, the first 10 candidates on its list will enter the Knesset.
If a Knesset member passes away or resigns his seat in the Knesset for whatever
reason, the next on the list will replace him/her.