The Electoral System
The average Israeli participates in the formal process of government through elections. Although citizens may have little or no voice in actual decisionmaking, they have a wider range of choices in selecting representatives than is the case in most Western democracies. The large number of parties and the system of at-large elections by a countrywide constituency are features inherited from the Zionist movement. Through proportional representation (PR), the Israeli voter has access to a wide and diverse spectrum of political views from which to choose.
Since the first election to the Constituent Assembly, or First Knesset, in 1949, Israeli politicians have become dissatisfied with the existing electoral system. Electoral reform has been high on the agenda of some renowned politicians, including Ben-Gurion. Concern with reform was widespread during the mid-1980s because of the negotiating excesses in forming and maintaining the government coalition during the Twelfth Knesset. Consequently, Labor and, later, Likud adopted a U.S.-style primary system to select their candidates for prime minister and for the Knesset. Beginning in 1996, the prime minister was to be elected in a direct popular election.
The Israeli political system is an extreme example of representative democracy with its frequent problems of governability, such as the formation of coalitions from parties with opposing programs. Citizens elect a new Knesset at least once every four years. As a single voting district with 120 representatives, Israel is one of the largest such districts among Western democracies. Citizens do not vote for individual candidates but for party lists, which represent each party's list of nominated candidates. Except for