Israel - Political Parties
|Likud + Beytenu||conservative||-||-||31|
|Likud - Ahi||conservative||729,054||27||27||-|
|Yesh Atid||centrist / reform||-||-||-||19|
|Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home)||religious||96,765||3||3||11|
|United Torah Judaism||religious||147,954||5||5||7|
|New Movement - Meretz||leftist||99,611||3||3||6|
|Hatnua [Tzipi Livni]||centrist||-||-||7||6|
|United Arab List - Ra`am-Ta`al||Arab||113,954||4||3||5|
|Balad [Nat'l Democratic Assembly]||Arab||83,739||3||3||3|
|Moledet / Ichud Leumi||religious||112,570||4||2|
|Haatzma`ut [Ehud Barak]||centrist||-||-||5|
|Arab Democratic Party||Arab||-||-||1|
|Single MK - Chaim Amsellem||religious||-||-||1|
Israel is a parliamentary democracy with an excessively active and unstable multiparty system. Relatively small parties, including those primarily supported by Arab Israelis, regularly win Knesset seats. England, Germany, Ireland, and Austria have just two major parties. Norway, Japan, Denmark and the Czech Republic have three significant parties. In New Zealand, Switzerland, and Sweden, that number climbs to four. In Israel, eight parties made up the governing coalition of Benjamin Netanyahu in 2012, resulting in the Prime Minister catering to the demands of each coalition partner, simply remain in power. Instead of facilitating the effective governance of the country, the system gives rise to governments that pursue the interests of minority population sub-groups with representation in the ruling coalition.
This situation is complicated by the amazing proclivity of Israeli politicians to leave the party on whose list they were first elected and either remain a single Member of the Knesset, or to combine with a couple of other MKs to form a new parliamentary group. At times this process of fragmentation is the result of two pre-existing parties running on a common list in order to meet the 2 percent vote threshold to gain a seat in the Knesset.
The law requires that a party obtain 2 percent of the vote to win Knesset seats (up from the 1.5 percentage requirement for election to the 16th Knesset). With about 5 million eligible voters and a roughly 60% turnout rate producing about 3 million ballots cast in recent elections, this means that a party would need to gain about 60,000 votes to get a seat in the Knesset. In the 2013 election, the secular centrist Yesh Atid party, founded by former journalist Yair Lapid in 2012, placed second. This party calls for rasing the threshold from 2% to 6%, or nearly 200,000 votes. If enacted, this proposal would exclude both Arab parties, the Communist party, and two of the four relibious parties, among others.
Political power in Israel has been contested within the framework of multiparty competition. Power has revolved around the system of government by coalition led by one of the two major parties, or in partnership among them. From the establishment of Mapai in 1930 until the 1977 Knesset elections, Labor (and its predecessor, Mapai) was the dominant party. Labor's defeat in the 1977 Knesset election, however, transformed the dominant party system into a multiparty system dominated by two major parties, Labor and Likud, in which neither was capable of governing except in alliance with smaller parties or, as in 1984 and 1988, in alliance with each other.
Political fragmentation, as marked by the proliferation of parties, is a long-standing feature of Israeli society. For example, in the prestate period, between 1920 and 1944, from twelve to twenty-six party lists were represented in the Elected Assembly. In the first Knesset election in 1949, twenty-four political parties and groups competed. Since then the number has fluctuated as a result of occasional splits, realignments, and mergers. However, dominance by two major parties and a multiplicity of smaller parties remained deeply embedded in Israeli political culture.
The early, formative experiences in political activity produced three major alignments. All were Zionist, but they had varying shades of secularism and religious orthodoxy. Two of the alignments were secular but ideologically opposed. The first consisted of leftist or socialist labor parties of which Mapai, founded in 1930, was the dominant party. The second consisted of centrist-rightist parties; Herut (Freedom Movement), founded in 1949, the Revisionist Party's successor and the Likud's mainstay, dominated that alignment. Herut, which had become part of Likud, eventually won a mandate to govern in 1977 under Begin. The third major political alignment consisted of Orthodox religious Zionists. A fourth category of minor Zionist parties also emerged, traditionally allied with one of the two major alignments; non-Zionist communist Arab or nationalist Arab parties constituted the fifth grouping.
Knesset elections are general, national, direct, equal, secret and proportional, with the entire country constituting a single electoral constituency. On election day, voters cast one ballot for a political party to represent them in the Knesset. Because of the importance attributed to the democratic process, election day is a holiday. Free transportation is available to voters who happen to be outside their polling districts on this day, and special arrangements are made to enable military personnel and Israelis on assignments abroad, to vote.
A central elections committee, headed by a justice of the supreme court and including representatives of the parties holding seats in the Knesset, is responsible for conducting the elections. Regional election committees oversee the functioning of local polling committees, which include representatives of at least three parties in the outgoing Knesset.
Israelis take a great interest in the political scene, both in internal affairs and security as well as in foreign relations. In all elections to the Knesset so far, some 77-87 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots for one of the many political parties running for the Knesset. To every Knesset 10-15 parties have been elected, and in the course of every Knesset, factions have both split and united.
Knesset elections are based on a vote for a party rather than for individuals, and the many political parties which compete for election to the Knesset reflect a wide range of outlooks and beliefs. The two main political parties - Likud, essentially national-liberal and Labor, essentially social-democratic - have historical roots and traditions pre-dating the establishment of the State in 1948. In recent years they have become increasingly populist and relatively pragmatic, compared to the parties to their left and right. Neither party has ever attained a majority of Knesset seats; the remaining seats being gained by small parties which reflect the variety of opinions in Isreli society concerning security, religion, social issues and economics. These parties may be roughly divided into several groupings: the religious parties, basically of two kinds, the national-religious and the ultra-orthodox; the liberal left-wing parties; the nationalist right-wing parties; and the Arab parties. In the 1999 elections, the two large parties together gained less than half of the Knesset seats.
Prior to the elections, each party presents its platform, and the list of candidates for the Knesset, in order of precedence. The parties select their candidates for the Knesset in primaries or by other procedures. Parties represented in the outgoing Knesset can automatically stand for re-election; other parties may present their candidacy by obtaining the signatures of 2,500 eligible voters and depositing a bond, which is refunded if they succeed in receiving at least one and one half percent of the national vote, entitling them to one Knesset seat.
Knesset seats are assigned in proportion to each party's percentage of the total national vote. A party's surplus votes, which are insufficient for an additional seat, are redistributed among the various parties according to their proportional size resulting from the elections, or as agreed between parties prior to the election.
An allocation funding the expenses of election campaigns is granted to each party from public funds, based on its number of seats in the outgoing Knesset. New parties receive a similar allocation retroactively for each member elected. The state comptroller reviews the disbursement of all campaign expenditures.
Every citizen is eligible to vote from age 18 and to be elected to the Knesset from age 21. The president, the state comptroller, judges and senior public officials, as well as the chief-of-staff and high-ranking military officers, are disqualified from presenting their candidacy, unless they have resigned their position at least 100 days before the elections.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|