WATCH: Israelis went to the polls on Tuesday in an election that could have serious implications for the Mideast peace process. Jackson Proskow reports on the incredibly close race.
Unlike in Canada where we cast a ballot for a Member of Parliament, Israelis don’t vote for just one candidate.
They choose from a slate of candidates, either from a single party or comprised of a group of parties that have decided to run together.
Going into election day, Benjamin Netanyahu‘s Likud party was trailing in the polls. But early television exit polls, after the voting stations closed at 10 p.m. local time (4 p.m. ET), suggested Likud was neck and neck with the rival Zionist Union.
The Zionist Union is led by Isaac Herzog, whose Labour party united with the Hatnuah party led by former Justice Minister and one-time opposition leader Tzipi Livni.
Being in the lead doesn’t guarantee a party leader the job of prime minister.
There needs to be a minimum of 61 seats won in order to form a majority. That has never happened.
As a result of that, Israel has been governed by coalition governments since 1949. The government is formed through proportional representation.
Eitan Weiss, Head of Public Diplomacy at the Embassy of Israel in Ottawa, told Global News it could take at least 42 days before we know who will officially be prime minister.
After the votes are tallied, the number of seats the parties will hold in the Knesset will be based on the percentage of votes each slate of candidates received.
Those receiving less than 3.25 per cent of the total votes will not be eligible for a seat. The remaining tally of votes divided by the number of seats (120) determines how many votes are needed to obtain a seat.
Once all of the seats are divvied up accordingly, President Reuven Rivlin will task an elected Member of the Knesset (MK) whose party or slate is best situated to form a coalition. In most cases, that’s the leader of the party with the most seats.
Weiss explained how the party with the most votes will have 28 days to put together a government. But should that party not manage to get an agreement between parties, and is unable to form a viable coalition with enough seats to reach a majority, Rivlin can extend that period by another two weeks.
Should a viable coalition fail to form, Rivlin can then appoint another MK to take on the duty of putting together a coalition, likely the leader of the party or slate that came in second. That can take up to a further 28 days, but there won’t be another extension beyond that.
So it is entirely feasible that Netanyahu’s Likud party could come in second and that he could still eventually wind up as prime minister.
Weiss pointed out that is exactly what happened in 2009, when the then-Livni-led Kadima party won the election. Ultimately, Netanyahu and Likud formed the coalition that has led Israel for the past six years because right-leaning parties had enough seats combined to form the government with Likud.
It may sound complicated at first, but Weiss said the system works well and it shows how “vibrant” Israel’s democracy is.
Quick facts and numbers about Israelis at the polls
- The polls opened at 7 a.m. local time (1 a.m. ET) and close at 10 p.m. (4 p.m. ET).
- 10,372 polling stations are located around Israel, according to the country’s Central Elections Committee.
- There are 5,881,696 eligible voters in this election.
- There are 120 seats up for grabs in the Knesset. A majority of 61 seats is needed to control government. No single party is going to win a majority, so there will have to be a coalition formed. There are 26 parties that have candidates running.
- Voter turnout appeared to go up slightly from the 2013 election. As of 8 p.m. (2 p.m. ET), 65.7 per cent of eligible voters had cast their ballot, compared to 63.7 per cent at the same point in the day during the election two years ago. Final numbers on voter turnout were not available at the time of publication.
- People with dual citizenship are eligible to vote in this election, but not from abroad. They must vote in Israel. There are some exceptions for members of the Israeli Defense Force, civil servants and staff of specific official Jewish organizations. Those individuals were allowed to vote at embassies and consulates in 98 locations around the world, but had to vote on March 5. In Canada, that worked out to between 20 to 30 people who were allowed to cast their ballots at the Israeli embassy in Ottawa or the Israeli Consulates in Toronto and Montreal, Weiss told Global News.