Key facts about Israel's election

AP News
Posted: Jan 21, 2013 12:03 PM

Key facts about Israel's general election:

—What's at stake: Voters will elect a 120-member parliament, or Knesset, Israel's 19th.

Citizens vote for party lists, not individual candidates. Seats are allocated in the Knesset according to the percentage of the vote the parties win.

—Who's running: There are 32 parties running. Key parties are the governing Likud Party, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who takes a hard line against the Palestinians and Iran; Jewish Home, led by high-tech millionaire Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu's chief rival for the support of settlers; Labor, headed by former journalist Shelly Yachimovich, emphasizing closing economic gaps; and Yisrael Beiteinu, the far-right secular party led by former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Likud and Yisrael Beitenu have joined forces in a unified list for the election, but will continue to function as separate parties after the election. Two ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties could play key roles after the election. A party must receive at least 2 percent of votes cast to be represented in parliament. In the 2009 election, 33 parties registered to run, but only 12 got enough votes to win seats.

—Forming a government: In Israel's 64-year history, no party has ever won an outright majority of 61 seats, and the country has always been governed by a coalition. Israel's president meets with party factions to determine which party has the best chance of forming a government. The president then taps the head of that party, usually but not necessarily parliament's largest, to undertake that task. That person will have up to six weeks to form a coalition. If successful, he or she becomes prime minister; if not, the president chooses another party to try.

The Vote: There are 5,656,705 eligible voters. Most of the 10,128 polling stations across the country open at 7 a.m. (0500 GMT, 12 a.m. ET) and close at 10 p.m. (2000 GMT, 3 p.m. ET). Exit polls will be released immediately after voting ends, and official results will trickle in throughout the night. Voter turnout in the last election in 2009 was 65.2 percent. Election Day is a national holiday, and most workers have the day off.

—Israel by the numbers: Population: Nearly 8 million, of whom 75 percent (6 million) are Jews, 20 percent (1.6 million) are Arabs and the rest are classified as "others," most of them non-Jewish immigrants. Per capita GDP is $30,500.