direct popular election, direct election, parliamentary election, Knesset, new elections
The Knesset elects a president, the head of state, who may serve a maximum of two five-year terms. The president holds little real power but performs such ceremonial functions as opening the first session of a new Knesset and receiving foreign diplomatic representatives.
The head of government, or prime minister, is chosen by direct popular election to serve a four-year term. All Israeli citizens 18 or older may vote. Before the 1996 elections the president selected the leader of the largest party in the Knesset as prime minister. In March 2001 the Knesset voted to abandon direct election of the prime minister. The vote restored the system under which the president selects the leader of the largest party in the Knesset as prime minister. The change was scheduled to take effect with the next parliamentary election, which must take place by 2003 at the latest.
At the start of a new term the prime minister forms a cabinet of ministers (known as the government) with as many as 18 members, at least half of whom must be from the Knesset. As the chief executive officer, the prime minister determines the agenda of cabinet meetings and has the final word in policy decisions.
The establishment of a new government requires a vote of confidence from the Knesset. Because no party has ever held an absolute majority of Knesset seats, Israelís governments have always been coalitions of several political parties. Compromises on policies and positions are central to coalition bargaining. The prime minister and the government may be ousted by a majority vote of no confidence in the parliament. The governmentís four-year term may also be shortened by its own resignation, by the Knessetís decision to dissolve itself and call for new elections, or by the resignation or death of the prime minister.
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