By Gil Elan
On Monday, Dec. 8, the Knesset, Israel’s single-house parliament, unanimously passed legislation to self-dissolve, and hold national elections March 17, 2015.
Since the government (Israel’s executive branch) receives its powers from the Knesset (the “legislative branch”), Bibi Netanyahu’s government is automatically “resigned.”
That does not mean that Israel is without a government. The outgoing cabinet continues to function with full executive powers and authority as an “interim” government until April or May, when the newly elected Knesset is sworn in and seated, so that it can pass a vote of confidence in the new government, which is then sworn in and starts functioning immediately.
The framework of the Israeli electoral system is defined in Article 4 of the Basic Law: The Knesset, which states: “The Knesset shall be elected by general, national, direct, equal, secret and proportional elections, in accordance with the Knesset Elections Law.”
General: On Election Day, voters cast one ballot for a political party to represent them in the Knesset. Every Israeli citizen age 18 or older has the right to vote, and every citizen age 21 or older can be elected to the Knesset. (The president, state comptroller, judges and senior public officials, as well as the chief-of-staff and high-ranking military officers, cannot stand for election to the Knesset unless they have resigned their position at least 100 days before the elections.)
National: The entire country constitutes a single electoral constituency.
Direct: The Knesset, the Israeli parliament, is elected directly by the voters, not through a body of electors.
Equal: All votes cast are equal in weight.
Secret: Elections are by secret ballot.
Proportional: The 120 Knesset seats are assigned in proportion to each party’s percentage of the total national vote.
Knesset elections are based on a vote for a party rather than for individuals. Prior to the elections, each party presents its platform and a list of candidates to the Election Committee. A list deposited with the Committee is “carved in stone” and cannot be changed or revised until the next election.
Parties seated in the outgoing Knesset can automatically stand for re-election.
Other parties can present their candidacy after getting signatures of 2,500 eligible voters and depositing a bond, which is refunded only if they succeed in winning at least one Knesset seat.
Knesset seats are assigned in proportion to each party’s percentage of the total national vote. So if, say, a party gets 20 percent of the total amount of legal votes cast in that election, then it will be allocated 20 percent of the seats (24).
The number and order of members entering the new Knesset for each party corresponds exactly to its list of candidates deposited for that election. There are no by-elections in Israel. If an Knesset member resigns or dies during the term, then the next person on that party’s list automatically replaces him/her.
The Central Elections Committee, headed by a justice of the Supreme Court is responsible for conducting and supervising the elections. It has the authority to prevent a party or list from participating in elections if its objectives or actions, expressly or by implication, include one of the following:
1. Negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people;
2. Negation of the democratic character of the State;
3. Incitement to racism.
Election Day in Israel is an official holiday so that everyone can participate. Soldiers on active duty vote in special polling stations in their units. Special arrangements are made for prison inmates to vote, as well as for those confined to hospitals. Israeli law does not provide for absentee ballots, and voting takes place only on Israeli soil. The only exceptions are Israeli citizens serving on Israeli ships (both navy and civilian) and in Israeli embassies and consulates abroad.
As soon as the votes are tallied and confirmed by the Election Committee, the new Knesset is sworn in and begins to function. This creates an interesting situation because the “old” Interim government is still in place and running the country.
Following consultations with the new Knesset factions, the president gives one Knesset member, who seems to have the support of at least 61 members, the responsibility of forming a government.
This “Prime Minister designate” now has 28 days to present to the Knesset a list of ministers for approval, together with an outline of proposed government guidelines. All the ministers must be Israeli citizens and residents of Israel; they don’t have to be Knesset members, but most usually are.
To date, all governments have been based on coalitions of several parties, as no party since 1949 has received the minimum of 61 Knesset seats to be able to form a government by itself.
As you can see — in Israel — unlike in the U.S., the prime minister’s government draws its power and authority from the Knesset, which is elected by the people.
A week ago I was convinced that Bibi Netanyahu was a lock to continue as prime minister after this election. Today, with all the shameless deal making, political ship-jumping, backstabbing and foreign “intervention,” I’m not so sure, not so sure at all. I guess we’ll have to wait until after the elections.
Agree or disagree that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is President and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org. DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.