Israel Election Day: My attempt to explain the confusion.

Today, I woke up today at a leisurely 930am instead of the usual grueling 7am. Why you may ask? Well today was election day in Israel, so I had the day off from school. I am sure most of you have read about it online or have experienced the mass amount of campaigning on the streets if you live in Israel yourself, but it’s definitely cool to be here and experience it.

Israel wasn’t supposed to have elections for another two years, but the country was drawn into early elections after a divide in the coalition a few months ago over a controversial bill regarding national identity in Israel. I don’t really understand why they just don’t change the system to call for an election every two years because it seems like the government never actually makes it to the 4 year mark.

But, it’s not surprising that they never make it there. The parliamentary system in Israel is bizarre to me. I will try an sum it up in a few sentences. Basically the Knesset is compromised of 120 seats. There are multiple parties, over 20, in Israel, each one run by a different leader. If this leader successfully forms a coalition, he or she will be the next Prime Minister of Israel. In order to form the majority coalition in the government, there has to be 61 seats. This coalition can be compromised by as many parties as it takes to reach the magic number.

For example, Party A has 25 seats, and its leader, let’s say his name is Jones, is going to form the majority coalition and become the next Prime Minister. In order to do this, Jones has to go around to all the other parties and get the remaining 36 seats (61-25) to form the majority coalition. If Party B has 20 seats, Party C has 10, and Party D has 9 seats and they all agree to form a coalition with Jones then Jones has formed a government with some seats to spare. But it’s never that easy and usually takes a lot of bargaining and promising certain positions within the government. For example, Party B will form a coalition with Jones only if Party B’s leader Cliff can be the Minister of Education. Blah blah the list goes on and on.

It pretty complicated but just to make things more complicated, the President is the one who decides which Prime Minister will form the government. Let’s say there’s another party, Party X run by Smith. After the national vote, Smith gained 27 seats in the Knesset, 2 more than his main competitor Jones. But Party B, C, and D leaders have already told the President they would rather see Jones as Prime Minster than Smith, well then the President would tell Jones to form the government, even though Smith won the main election.

The number of seats each party has is determined by votes on Election Day.

This is the part that really bugs me. I just don’t really understand how there could be a discrepancy between what the people vote for and who actually becomes Prime Minister. Even if someone wins the majority vote and gains the most seat, he or she won’t necessarily become the Prime Minister. But I am not about to start a political debate here.

So today is the big day. I went with Ran this morning to vote just to see what it’s like in Israel. It’s similar to the United States in that you have a card that proves you are eligible to vote and the voting takes place in all the local schools. But what was so weird to me was that Israel uses a very old fashioned way to vote. You literally pick a piece of paper with your choice’s name on it, put it into an envelope and put the envelope in a wooden ballot box. All of the votes are tallied by hand, there is no electronic system at all. Also, when voting you vote for the party, not an actual person.

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The voting slips

There are many predictions about what will happen tonight, many can be found online on more reputable sources, so I’ll save my fairly uninfmored opinion.

But I will say that I am very excited to get to be in Israel on an Election Day. We were at a seminar with our program the other day and someone said that we are actually experiencing history in the making. Whatever happens today will effect Israel for the next 4 years (well probably more like 2). But it is really amazing to get to be here, see all the political posters, and feel the excitement. I know I will be obsessively checking online to night to see what the outcome will be, even though no final results will be known for a few weeks.

Just being in Israel in Election Day is so much fun because everyone has the day off. I went for a walk today and the streets were filled with people walking around, barbecuing in the park, and shopping. It’s one big celebration.

That’s all, happy voting to anyone who can vote in Israel!

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