“Bibi,” “Bennett,” “Tzipi,” “Shelly.” The way names of major candidates in the Israeli elections have been bandied about by international observers and media analysts, you would think Israeli voters are only electing the prime minister. Not so. When they enter the “Kalfi” (Hebrew for ballot box) Jan. 22, Israelis will decide the composition of the 19th Knesset (Israel’s parliament) by casting votes for whole parties—not specific candidates. Each party, which presents candidates for membership in the Knesset, must win at least 2 percent of the total vote to get two members in. The government will be established based on how many seats each party wins, and the president will appoint the prime minister, usually the leader of the party that won the most votes. That candidate must then form a coalition with other Knesset-elected parties, and those parties that are not included become the opposition.
Thirty-four parties are competing in this election, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s newly formed Likud-Beiteinu party favored to win the most Knesset seats, which would mean the re-election of the prime minister.
Despite a radically different elections system from the U.S.—at least technically speaking—over the past decade Israeli elections “became personalized,” Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) researcher Dr. Ofer Kenig told JNS.org. “Some even call this phenomenon ‘the Americanization of elections/politics,’” he wrote in an email.
Israeli election results, however, still only “determine the balance of power between parties in the Knesset,” according to Kenig, who explained that the elections “never produce a party with an overall majority.”
In the last election, Kadima beat current Netanyahu’s Likud, but Netanyahu still formed the government. This time, the right-religious bloc of parties could gain the most seats, but Netanyahu may still leave parties from that bloc out of his future coalition.
“When Israelis go to the polls they don’t really know what kind of government/coalition they are going to end up with. And so, a considerable part of the campaign revolves around questions such as ‘which party will consider cooperating with other parties following the elections,’” Kenig wrote.