Israel is a parliamentary system. The Prime Minister, who heads Israel's government, is chosen after the elections from a member of the newly-elected Knesset, Israel's parliament. National elections to the Knesset are held once every four years, unless circumstances call for early elections.
The framework of the Israeli electoral system is defined in Article 4 of the Basic Law: The Knesset, which states: "The Knesset shall be elected by general, national, direct, equal, secret and proportional elections, in accordance with the Knesset Elections Law."
• General: Every Israeli citizen aged 18 or older on election day has the right to vote. Israelis of all ethnic groups and religious beliefs, including Arab-Israelis, actively participate in the process.
• National: The entire country constitutes a single electoral constituency.
• Direct: The Knesset, the Israeli parliament, is elected directly by the voters, not through a body of electors. On election day, voters cast one ballot for a political party to represent them in the Knesset.
• Equal: All votes cast are equal in weight.
• Secret: Elections are by secret ballot.
• Proportional: The 120 Knesset seats are assigned in proportion to each party's percentage of the total national vote. However, the minimum required for a party to win a Knesset seat is 2% of the total votes cast.
• Number of eligible voters in the 2013 Knesset elections: 5,656,705
• Number of polling stations in Israel: 10,128, including 190 in hospitals and 57 in prisons
• Number of polling stations at diplomatic missions abroad: 96
Who can be elected?
Every citizen aged 21 or older is eligible for election to the Knesset, unless a court has deprived him of that right by virtue of the law or he has been sentenced, by a final verdict, to actual imprisonment for a term of over three months. In addition, unless the chairman of the Central Elections Committee has determined that the crime of which he has been convicted does not bear moral turpitude, seven years must have passed from the day he concluded serving his term of imprisonment to the day of submission of the list of candidates.
Senior public officials - including the President, state comptroller, judges, as well as the chief-of-staff and high-ranking military officers - may not stand for election to the Knesset unless they have resigned their position at least 100 days before the elections. In addition, the Central Elections Committee may by law prevent a candidates' list from participating in elections if its objectives or actions, expressly or by implication, include one of the following:
- negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people;
- negation of the democratic character of the State;
- incitement to racism.
Electing parties, not individuals
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 number and order of members entering the new Knesset for each party corresponds to its list of candidates as presented for election. For example, if a party receives 10 mandates, the first ten candidates on its list enter the new Knesset.
The direct election of the prime minister, instituted in Israel in 1996, was abolished under the revised Basic Law: The Government (2001) and the the task of forming a government and heading it as prime minister is once again assigned by the President to the Knesset member considered to have the best chance of forming a viable coalition government in light of the Knesset election results.
Only parties which have been legally registered with the Party Register, or an alignment of two or more registered parties, can present a list of candidates and participate in the elections. 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. There are 34 party lists competing for seats in the 19th Knesset.