On January 22nd 2013, Israel held its 19th parliamentary elections. Our readers and students have asked many questions regarding these elections: How come you have so many parties? Who can vote for the Israeli parliament? Who are all these new names and faces in Israeli politics? What is the role of the president in the election process? What happens after the election? In this newsletter, we will try to help you better understand the complicated nature and process of Israeli democracy.
One of the most prominent issues in the recent election was the importance of taking a stand and executing the democratic right to vote rather than presenting indifference by not voting. The result was 67.8% of eligible voters actually voting. Who are eligible voters, you ask? Eligible voters are every citizen age 18 or older, including men and women of all ethnicities, religions, educational and financial backgrounds who were physically present within the borders of the State of Israel on the Election Day. This includes soldiers and patients in hospital, as well as state employees who are on-duty outside of the borders of the State of Israel (emissaries and ambassadors, for example).
Now, the number of parties seems inconceivable to some of our readers, rightly so. More than 30 parties ran for a seat in a parliament of 120 members. Some of the candidates were never-before heard of, while others simply switched from one party to another. According to the law, every Israeli resident who is 21 years of age and older can either join an existing party or create a political party, as long as it doesn’t delegitimize the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish state, incite racism or support the armed struggle against the State of Israel. The party should be legally registered and have a list of candidates. If, for example, you heard about the party of “so and so”, it actually refers to the person whose name appears first on the list of that party. However, when voting, Israelis vote for a party, not a person. In these elections we saw several new faces in Israeli politics; some we already knew from the media, some in fact came from the media; some came from local government, while others came into consciousness during the 2011 social justice protests.
Now that the elections have been and gone, it’s only fair to ask, “What’s next?” Well, the 120 seats in the Knesset כְּנֶסֶת), the national legislature of the State of Israel) are assigned proportionally to each party that received votes, provided that the party gained votes which met or exceeded a 2% electoral threshold. In other words, the number of candidates entering the Knesset is proportional to the percentage of support the list received. The low threshold makes the Israeli electoral system much more favorable to minor parties than systems used in most other countries. But, if say you voted for a small party that did not meet the electoral threshold, the vote essentially isn’t counted. In these elections, more than 250,000 voters voted for small parties that did not meet the 2% electoral threshold.
So then, what is the role of the president? After the election results are published, the President (נָשִׂיא, nasi) consults with representatives of the parties and then assigns the role of forming the government (מֶמְשָׁלָה, memshala), the executive authority of the state, to the leader of the party that has the most viable chance of forming a supportive coalition. The coalition (קוֹאָלִיצְיָה, ko’alitsya) consists of parties which include at least 61 of the 120 Knesset members (חַבְרֵי כְּנֶסֶת, Member of Knesset). The parties that don’t form the government make up the opposition (אוֹפּוֹזִיצְיָה, opozitsya).
Once a government has been formed, the designated prime minister (רֹאשׁ מֶמְשָׁלָה, rosh memshala) presents the proposed government body to the Knesset for a vote of approval by a majority of 61 Knesset members. Once approved, the ministers thereupon assume their respective offices.
Finally – who are the faces in Israel’s newest Knesset? There are 49 new members (out of a total of 120) – this number is rather large relative to previous elections. There is also the highest percentage of women ever in this Knesset – 27 (out of 120 members) as opposed to 21 in the 18th Knesset. In addition, there is a higher percentage of religious members (39 members as opposed to 28 members in the previous Knesset) and 12 non-Jewish members. The new Knesset consists of 14 former journalists, 13 Ph.D holders and one professor.
Let us all hope that the democratic process brings us good leadership, peace, and prosperity.
Hebrew Teacher @ eTeacherHebrew