5,883,365 registered Israeli voters had the chance to cast ballots Tuesday for the 20th Knesset, Israel’s 120-member parliament, an early election that has become a referendum on whether to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from Likud a third consecutive mandate or his rival Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog the opportunity to form the next government.
Polls opened at 7am and will close at 10 pm (9 pm in Brussels) at 10,119 ballot boxes across the country. The three major television channels will then publish their exit polls, which are considered authoritative
In total, 25 parties are standing for election, with parliamentary seats distributed as a proportion of the total votes cast. However, the minimum electoral threshold was raised before the current campaign, meaning that a party must secure 3.25 per cent of the vote to be elected. Polls indicate that the likes of Meretz and Yisrael Beitenu, both mainstays of the political landscape, may struggle to reach the threshold.
The final results will be handed to President Reuven Rivlin on 25 March.
Channel Two predicted that around 80 per cent of registered voters will exercise their right to vote. Such a turnout would be a significant increase on recent elections, with voter turnout at around 65 per cent since 2001. A markedly higher than usual turnout is expected among Israel’s Arab citizens who appear to have been galvanized by the amalgamation of smaller parties into the Joint Arab List.
By law, the final election results must be published within eight days of the vote, but a spokesman for the Central Elections Committee said the counting would be finished on Thursday afternoon.
Under Israel’s complex electoral system, the task of forming a new government does not automatically fall to the party with the largest number of votes, but to the party leader with the best chance of cobbling together a coalition with a parliamentary majority of 61.
Once the results are known, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has seven days to entrust a party leader with the job of forming the next government.
“The president has made clear that Israel needs a government as soon as possible, and therefore is keen to begin consulting with the parties’ representatives as soon as possible,” a spokesman said.