Parliamentary Chamber: Knesset


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Dates of elections / renewal (from/to):

  28 January 2003

Purpose of elections:

  Elections were held for all the seats in Parliament following the premature dissolution of this body in November 2002. General elections had previously been held in May 1999.

Background and outcome of elections:

  In November 2002, Prime Minister Sharon dissolved parliament and called early elections, nine months before the scheduled date, after the Labour Party, his largest coalition partner, had withdrawn from government in a dispute over the 2003 budget. Mr. Sharon had formed the coalition, the "national unity" government in March 2001 after his victory in the elections held for the premiership. On 11 November 2002, the Knesset set 28 January 2003 as the date for holding general elections.

The general elections were preceded by party elections to choose a leader for the Labour Party in November 2002 and a leader for the rightist Likud Party one month later.

Twenty-eight political parties were registered for the general elections. The two main parties in the running were Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Likud Party, which campaigned on eventual recognition of Palestinian statehood after the cessation of violence, and the Labour Party, the centre-left party of Haifa Mayor Amram Mitzna, which sought to resume peace negotiations for Palestinian statehood, regardless of whether violence stops, including a plan for an immediate unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Also in the race were the Shinui Party, a centrist party that declared that it would abandon Jewish settlements as part of a peace deal and give Palestinians autonomy in parts of Jerusalem; the Shas Party, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish party, which sought more religious legislation and aligned itself with the Likud Party on peace issues; the Meretz Party, a leftist party, that favoured Israel's withdrawal to borders predating the 1967 Middle East war and backed the establishment of a Palestinian State; the National Union, a right-wing party opposed to the creation of a Palestinian State; the National Religious Party, a modern Orthodox Jewish party, and the primary lobbying mechanism for Jewish settlers living in the West Bank and Gaza.

Throughout the campaign, Mr. Sharon had maintained that he sought a broad unity government anchored by his Likud and the Labour Party. But Mr. Mitzna vowed to reject any offer to join a Sharon-led government. The electoral campaign focused on security issues, as the elections were held against the background of the conflict with Palestinians, the potential US attack on Iraq and the global "War on Terrorism".

The final turnout was close to 68.5 percent, an all-time low. The previous record for low voter turnout was set in 1949, when 75 percent of all eligible voters cast ballots.

Official results showed that Mr. Ariel Sharon was the first incumbent Prime Minister to win re-election since the 1980s. His Likud Party won 37 seats while the Labour Party had its worst showing ever, losing seven of the 26 seats it had picked in the last Knesset elections in 1999 when it became the largest single faction in Parliament. The Shinui Party became the Knesset's third largest party, more than doubling its strength from six seats in the outgoing Parliament to as many as 15 in the incoming one.

On 10 February 2003, Mr. Sharon was formally invited by the Israeli President, Mr. Moshe Katsav, to begin putting together a new administration. On 27 February 2003, a new coalition government, formed by the Likud, the National Religious Party (NRP), the National Union Party (NUP) and the Shinui was approved by the Knesset.

On 19 February 2003, the newly elected Knesset elected Mr. Reuven Rivlin as its Speaker.

Round no 1 (28 January 2003): Elections results  
Number of registered electors 4 720 075
Voters 3 200 773 (68 %)
Blank or invalid ballot papers 52 409
Valid votes 3 148 364

Round no 1: Distribution of votes  
Political Group Votes %
Likud 925 279 29.39
Labour Party 455 183 14.46
Shinui 386 535 12.28
Shas 258 879 8.22
National Union n.a. 5.90
Meretz 164 122 5.21
Torah Judaism 135 087 4.29
National Religious Party (NRP) 132 370 4.20
Hadash 93 819 2.98
One Nation 86 808 2.76
Balad 71 299 2.26
Yisrael Be'aliya 67 719 2.15
Ra'am 65 551 2.08

Round no 1: Distribution of seats  
Political Group Total
Likud 38
Labour Party 19
Shinui 15
Shas 11
National Union 7
Meretz 6
Torah Judaism 5
National Religious Party (NRP) 6
Hadash 3
One Nation 3
Balad 3
Yisrael Be'aliya 2
Ra'am 2

  After the elections, Yisreal Be'aliya merged with the Likud, which now has 40 seats.
Distribution of seats according to sex:  
Men: 102
Women: 18
Percent of women: 15.00

Distribution of seats according to age:
  21 to 30 years : 2
31 to 40 years: 8
41 to 50 years: 42
51 to 60 years: 50
61 to 70 years: 15
Over 70 years: 3

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Copyright 2003 Inter-Parliamentary Union