Explained: The inevitability of coalitions in Israel's Knesset


Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s long-serving Prime Minister, is expected to be ousted after Yair Lapid announced that he has managed to form a coalition with 61 seats in Knesset.

Explained: The inevitability of coalitions in Israel's Knesset

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s long-serving Prime Minister, is expected to be ousted after Yair Lapid announced that he has managed to form a coalition with 61 seats in the Israeli parliament.

The announcement from Lapid came moments before the deadline for the new government was about to expire. The new government, made out of a coalition of diametrically opposed parties, is expected to be ratified and sworn in by Mid-June when the Knesset meets again.

As Naftali Bennet and Yair Lapid prepare to be Prime Minister on rotation, here's a close look at how the Israeli political system is structured and functions:

Israel practices a parliamentary system of democracy much like India, with citizens electing representatives to Knesset, the country's parliament. The election for the representatives, however, is quite different.

Instead of voting for individual representatives, Israel uses a system of voting known as the party-list proportional representation where citizens vote for parties, and parties get a number of seats in the Knesset equal to the proportion of the total votes they receive.

Unlike India, which has two houses of parliament, Israel has a unicameral system with only the lower house. Any party that receives at least 3.25 percent of the electorate vote is guaranteed to win a seat in the Knesset.

What are the major parties?

Due to the low vote threshold and the need for parties to come together in alliances and coalitions to form a government, even parties with a single seat in the Knesset can command influence greater than expected.

This is how Bennet finds himself in the position of succeeding Netanyahu even as his party, Yamina, only has 7 seats in the parliament, 5th in terms of the number of seats that parties have gotten.

The largest party in the Knesset currently is the Likud party headed by Netanyahu, which has remained in power since 2009. Likud currently holds 30 seats in the Knesset.

The second-largest party in the Knesset is the Yesh Atid party, which is lead by Lapid. Lapid was the candidate chosen by the Knesset to try and form a government after Netanyahu failed to do so. His party has 17 seats in the Knesset.

The religious Shas party, the centrist Blue and White alliance, and the ultra-right-wing Yamina party are the 3rd, 4th and 5th biggest parties, respectively with 9, 8 and 7 members in the Knesset.

The smallest party by size in the Knesset, the United Arab List also has a crucial role to play in the new government as its support will mean that Lapid will be able to break through the 61-seat mark in the Knesset to get a majority.

A History of Coalitions

Israeli politics and the Knesset structure have ensured that the country has seen a history of coalitions. Along with the fact that the government can be dissolved by the Knesset, several governments have resigned in the past, and a new government can be formed without a general election, no government has seen the completion of its 4-year term in Israel since 1988.

Israel has seen four elections in a period of almost two years as the parties reached a deadlock and weren’t able to form a coalition that reached the necessary 61-seat threshold.

It is only after careful negotiations, a will to oust the incumbent Prime Minister Netanyahu, and reticence to have another election that Lapid has managed to form a coalition out of parties that span almost the entirety of the political spectrum.

As part of this deal, Lapid will be sharing the position of the Prime Ministership itself, with Bennet serving as the PM for the first 2 years and 3 months of the government’s and Lapid serving the second 2 years and 3 months to close it out.

It is yet to be seen whether this new government built on a fragile alliance can last its whole term without imploding.

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