Why are the elections so frequent in Israel (5th in 3 years)

Posted by Dorit Revitch on

While in the USA, there is a presidential election every 4 years, Israel is about to start elections once again. But guess what? This is the 5th election in 3 years.  We had in April 2019, September 2019, March 2020, and March 2021

And now again on November 1st, 2022. Why is that?

How come this happens in a democratic well-balanced country? Let us first understand the differences between the Israeli parliament elections and the American presidential elections and the elections for the American Congress and Senate.

As we all know the election of the president and the vice president of the United States is an indirect election in which citizens of the United States who are registered to vote in one of the fifty U.S. states or in Washington, D.C., cast ballots not directly for those offices, but instead for members of the Electoral College. These electors then cast direct votes, known as electoral votes, for president, and for vice president.

The candidate who receives an absolute majority of electoral votes (at least 270 out of 538, since the Twenty-Third Amendment granted voting rights to citizens of D.C.) is then elected to that office. If no candidate receives an absolute majority of the votes for president, the House of Representatives elects the president; likewise, if no one receives an absolute majority of the votes for vice president, then the Senate elects the vice president. (Wikipedia)

In Israel the elections are a bit different, the first part is that Israelis elect the Kneset, its parties, and its members and the Prime minister is the head of the winning party who has a majority of votes, which means the elections are for Prime minister and not a president.

In Israel elections are based on nationwide proportional representation. The electoral threshold is currently set at 3.25%, with the number of seats a party receives in the Knesset being proportional to the number of votes it receives. The Knesset is elected for a four-year term, although most governments have not served a full term and early elections are a frequent occurrence.

Israel has a multi-party system based on coalition governments as no party has ever won a majority of seats in a national election, although the Alignment briefly held a majority following its formation by an alliance of several different parties prior to the 1969 elections. Suffrage is universal to all Israeli citizens above the age of 18. Israeli citizens living abroad must travel to Israel to vote. But voting booths are made available on Israeli ships. Elections are overseen by the Central Elections Committee and are held according to the Knesset Elections Law.

Under normal circumstances, Israel's Basic Law requires national elections for the Knesset to take place on a Tuesday in the Jewish month of Cheshvan (early October through mid-November) four years following the previous elections. However, it is possible, and it often happens, that early elections can take place prior to the date set in the basic law. Early elections can be called by a vote of the majority of Knesset members, or by an edict of the President, and normally occur on occasions of political stalemate and of the inability of the government to get the parliament's support for its policies. Failure to get the annual budget bill approved by the Knesset by March 31 (3 months after the start of the fiscal year) also leads automatically to early elections. It is also possible to postpone the date of the election by a special majority of the Knesset members. (Wikipedia)

When a majority vote of No Confidence in the government by the Knesset Members goes through there will be an election date declared.

The no Confidence vote can be due to budgets, internal policies, social reforms, education matters, inflation, or gas prices, anything can cause that, and when a vote passes, it will make the government be a provisional government till the new elections.

The consequences are in fact that no real decisions on any important matters will take place, no policies will be decided, no budgets will be changed or modified, and in fact, the country is like a naked country and very vulnerable, is it good or bad that the government is now not responsible for much? Should it be left like it was? Time will tell.

So, what happened in the last 3 years that Israel is now going to its fifth elections?

Early legislative elections were held in Israel on 9 April 2019 to elect the 120 members of the 21st Knesset. Elections had been due in November 2019 but were brought forward following a dispute between members of the current government over a bill on national service for the ultra-Orthodox population, as well as impending corruption charges against incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition for a second consecutive time. On May 30th, the Knesset voted to dissolve itself and trigger new elections, to prevent Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz from being appointed Prime Minister-designate. This election marked the first time the Knesset voted to dissolve itself before a government had been formed. And Elections were dated September 17th of that same year 2019, when a government was formed by Me. Benyamin Netanyahu (again).

But since the Knesset had failed to approve the 2020 state budget by the required deadline, at midnight IST on the 23rd of December 2020, the government coalition collapsed, and the 23rd Knesset was officially dissolved. In accordance with the law that the election must be held within 90 days after the dissolution of the Knesset, the date for elections to the 24th Knesset was automatically set for 23 March 2020, it ended up on March 2nd as 23rd of March was Purim, and Before that was a Memorial Day, so everyone has compromised and made it March 2nd.

These elections ended up in a stalemate and Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Benni Gantz formed a coalition. Since neither of them could form a majority government of 61 electors -members of the Knesset. Netanyahu and Gantz agreed in principle that the only solution was a national unity government between Netanyahu's Likud and Gantz's Blue and White parties. However, substantial disagreements over the terms of such a government prevented one from being formed, as Netanyahu demanded the inclusion of his allied right-wing, religious parties, and Gantz refused to cooperate with a Netanyahu-led Likud as long as he was under indictment for alleged bribery and fraud.

After no Member of the Knesset succeeded at this task of forming a majority government by December 11th 2020, the Israeli President, at the time, Mr. Rubi Rivlin was forced to call for new elections, as it is required by law.

It was the fourth election in two years. Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett announced that they had formed a rotation government on June 2nd, 2021, which was approved on June 13th, 2021.

We had a government, at least we thought, so what happened now?  

The unity government, formed between eight political parties, held the narrowest possible majority (61 seats) from the 120-member Knesset. In April 2022, a Member of the Kenesst Mrs. Idit Silman quit the governing coalition and left it without a majority.

On 20 June 2022, following several legislative defeats for the governing coalition in the Knesset, prime minister Naftali Bennett and alternate prime minister Yair Lapid announced the introduction of a bill to dissolve the Knesset, which was approved on June 30th, 2022. Simultaneously, in accordance with the rotation agreement that was part of the 2021 coalition deal, Mr. Yair Lapid became prime minister and serves in a caretaker capacity until the elections take place on November 1st, 2022.

The bottom line is that the Israeli government has difficulties in having a stable majority governing coalition since they do represent the people and the parties do not always agree on how to do it.

So as summary, when a government does not act as it should and there is enough opposition that comes from other parties, the Israeli parliament, aka the Knesset, can vote that government out in 3 months. Meaning new elections.

I hope this explanation was an eye-opener for some of you! It’s always fascinating to learn how different countries manage their government and we can try and learn from it as much as we can.

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