Israel's voting system fosters pluralism - and instability

Israel's voting system fosters pluralism - and instability
Thousands of Ultra-Orthodox Jews take part in a rally to show support to their political parties a few days before Israel votes in a snap general election, on March 11, 2015 in Bnei Brak, near the coastal city of Tel Aviv.

JERUSALEM - Israel uses a proportional voting system that fosters pluralism but has also led to repeated failures to form stable government coalitions.

Instead of electing individual members of the 120-seat parliament, or Knesset, voters choose party lists, with seats distributed according to the percentage of the vote received.

Parties are only eligible for seats if they pass a threshold, which was raised last year from two per cent to 3.25 per cent.

That move was slammed by the opposition as an attempt to force Arab parties out of parliament, but it instead saw them join forces in a united list.

In Tuesday's election to choose the country's 20th Knesset, 5,881,696 million citizens are eligible to vote. There will be 10,372 polling stations nationwide.

There are 25 lists battling it out for seats, reflecting the country's diverse political map, but polls predict that only 11 are expected to enter parliament.

After official results are announced, President Reuven Rivlin will have seven days to entrust forming the next government to a party leader who says he or she is ready to do so.

The leader has 28 days to do so, but Rivlin can extend the deadline by another 14 days if necessary.

If a coalition fails to emerge, he can assign another party leader to the task, again with a 28-day deadline.

If this bid fails as well, Rivlin can then assign the task to a third person, but if they are unable to form a government within 14 days the president calls a new election.

In general the leader whose party wins the most votes is tasked with forming a coalition, but this is not mandatory.

No party in Israel has ever been able to secure the necessary 61 seats 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 also 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 and only six of the past 19 parliaments have been able to complete their four-year mandate.

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