Parliamentary Chamber: Knesset


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Dates of elections / renewal (from/to):

  17 May 1999

Purpose of elections:

  Elections were held for all the seats in Parliament following the premature dissolution of this body on 4 January 1999. General elections had previously been held in May 1996.

Background and outcome of elections:

  The normal term of the 14th Knesset should have expired in November 2000. However, the Knesset passed a law for its early dissolution on 4 January 1999, after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had difficulty getting the governing coalition members to support his Middle East peace policy, and the state budget for 1999. The 1999 elections marked the second time that they were held simultaneously for the Knesset and the Prime Minister, since the Basic Law on the Prime Minister was passed in March 1992.

In the race for Prime Minister, the five initial candidatures narrowed to just two before polling: that of the outgoing Prime Minister, Likud chairman Netanyahu, and that of his main rival, Mr. Ehud Barak, a former Army Chief of Staff who had become chairman of the Israel Labour Party in June 1997. The former focused his campaign on the personal security he claimed to have brought Israel's citizens in the last three years, and the advantages of his tough position in the peace negotiations, while the latter - who headed a joint list (One Israel) with the ethnic party Gesher and the moderate religious party Meimad - emphasised his own military record, as well as deplored the social and economic problems of the country. However, the main issue in the elections for Prime Minister was Mr. Netanyahu's personality. The campaign for the Knesset elections, in which 31 parties were competing, focused on future control over the Ministry of the Interior (between the ultra-religious Sephardi Shas party and the predominantly Russian new immigrants' party, Yisrael Be'aliya), the need to finalize a Constitution for Israel (to replace the current set of basic laws) and the religious status quo in the country.

On polling day, Mr. Barak was elected Prime Minister by a comfortable majority (about 56% country-wide and about 51% amongst the Jewish voters), while the two major party lists - One Israel and the Likud - were greatly weakened. Although the former topped its conservative rival to emerge as the leading group with 26 seats, the ultra-orthodox Shas party led by Rabbi Arieh Déri recorded important gains to solidify its third-ranking position. Overall, the number of party lists elected to the 15th Knesset rose to 15 (compared to 10 in 1992 and 11 in 1996).

It took Mr. Barak over six weeks to put together his governing coalition. It is a broad alliance comprising seven parliamentary groups: One Israel, Shas, Meretz, the Centre Party, the National Religious Party, Torah Judaism (which will not be represented in the government by a Minister or Deputy Minister) and Yisrael Be'aliya, with a parliamentary majority of 73 out of 120 (after two members of the last party mentioned broke away from the coalition ranks). In accordance with the Basic Law on the Government, the new Government is made up of 18 Ministers. Mr. Barak was sworn in as Prime Minister, together with his Cabinet, on 6 July. In the meantime, Mr. Netanyahu had stepped down as Likud leader.

Round no 1 (17 May 1999): Elections results  
Number of registered electors 4 285 428
Voters 3 373 748 (79 %)
Blank or invalid ballot papers 64 332
Valid votes 3 309 416

Round no 1: Distribution of votes  
Political Group Votes %
One Israel 670 484 20.26
Likud 468 103 14.14
Shas 430 676 13.01
Meretz - Democratic Israel 253 525 7.66
Israel B'Aliyah 171 705 5.19
Shinui 167 748 5.07
Center Party 165 622 5.00
National Religious Party 140 307 4.24
Torah Judaism 125 741 3.70
Arab Democratic Party 114 810 3.47
Israel Beiteinu 86 153 2.60
National Union 100 181 3.03
Hadash 87 022 2.63
Am Ehad 64 143 1.94
Balad 66 103 1.90
Others 197 093 5.96

Round no 1: Distribution of seats  
Political Group Total
One Israel 26
Likud 19
Shas 17
Meretz - Democratic Israel 10
Israel B'Aliyah 6
Shinui 6
Center Party 6
National Religious Party 5
Torah Judaism 5
Arab Democratic Party 5
Israel Beiteinu 4
National Union 4
Hadash 3
Am Ehad 2
Balad 2
Others 0

  One Israel is comprised of the Labour Party, Meimad and Gesher
Hadash = Democratic Front for Peace and Equality
Balad = National Democratic Alliance

Distribution of seats according to sex:  
Men: 106
Women: 14
Percent of women: 11.67

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Copyright © 1999 Inter-Parliamentary Union