Israel's voting system breeds pluralism

2013-01-17 19:16
An Israeli electoral worker arranges ballot boxes at the headquarters of the Israeli Elections Committee. (Menahem Kahana, AFP)

An Israeli electoral worker arranges ballot boxes at the headquarters of the Israeli Elections Committee. (Menahem Kahana, AFP)

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Jerusalem - Israel's voting system reflects the many different political currents in society, but it has also been behind the repeated failure of governments to form stable coalitions.

The proportional representation system means that any party can enter the 120-member parliament, or Knesset, if it passes a threshold of 2% of the popular vote.

The number of seats that party secures is proportional to the number of votes received.

In Tuesday's election to choose the country's 19th Knesset, 5.6 million citizens are eligible to vote. There are 10 133 polling stations nationwide.

Thirty-eight parties on 34 lists will battle for seats in the next Knesset, reflecting the country's eclectic political map. However, polls predict that fewer than half of them are expected to enter parliament.

After the official results, President Shimon Peres has seven days in which to entrust forming the next government to the party leader who says he or she is ready to do so.

The party leader then has 28 days to put together a coalition. If necessary Peres can extend the deadline by another 14 days.

If a coalition fails to emerge, he can assign another party leader with the task, and this person also has 28 days to form a government.

If this bid fails, Peres can then assign the task to a third person, but should this person not succeed within 14 days the president then calls a new election.

Whoever gets first shot at forming a coalition of at least 61 MPs is generally the leader of the party that wins the most votes, although this is not mandatory.

No single party in Israel has ever been able to secure the necessary 61 seats to enable it to rule alone.

Twice - in 1996 and 1999 - Israelis voted directly for a prime minister as well as for a party list.

In 2001, a special prime ministerial election was held after then Labour Premier Ehud Barak was unable to win the Knesset's support.

Creating a coalition can be painstaking, as the leading party must accommodate different parties demanding portfolios in the new cabinet, each with its own agenda.

This is the main source of instability in most Israeli governments, with only six of the past 18 parliaments able to complete their four-year mandate.

The success of the political haggling that begins immediately after the election will determine how strong and viable Israel's next government becomes.

Read more on:    ehud barak  |  shimon peres  |  israel
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