What's at Stake in Israel's Tight April 9 Election

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(Bloomberg) -- Israelis go to the polls Tuesday to elect a new 120-member parliament, or Knesset, and deliver their verdict on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who’s facing his biggest challenge in years as he fights for a fifth term while battling corruption charges. Here’s what to watch for.

What are the key issues?

The biggest campaign issue is Netanyahu’s entanglement in three corruption cases, which has given a tailwind to the new Blue & White party led by former military chief Benny Gantz and ex-Finance Minister Yair Lapid. This election pits two people with top-notch security credentials against each other, making Israel’s defense less of an issue than in previous campaigns. A fifth term would make Netanyahu Israel’s longest-serving premier.

What's at Stake in Israel's Tight April 9 Election

What about the smaller parties?

Small parties could either emerge as kingmakers, or tip the election if they fail to reach the electoral threshold with 3.25 percent of the vote. They include:

  • Zehut, led by a religious Jewish ultranationalist whose popularity has surged since he called for marijuana to be legalized
  • Kulanu, an economy-focused party led by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, whose appeal has flagged amid the persistently high cost of living
  • Yisrael Beitenu, headed by former Foreign and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, whose powerbroker status has withered because other party leaders have been caught up in a corruption scandal and his Russian-speaking constituency is increasingly integrated into Israeli society

How the elections work

Israelis vote for party tickets and don’t directly elect lawmakers or the prime minister. Seats are allocated in proportion to the number of votes won, and a party needs to secure a minimum of four parliamentary seats to enter the Knesset. No party has ever won an outright majority on its own, and all governments have been coalitions. Netanyahu’s current coalition has a razor-thin majority of 61 seats and is made up of five parties.

Who’s eligible to vote?

All Israeli citizens can vote. Israel doesn’t allow absentee voting. The polls close at 10 p.m., and preliminary results should be available several hours later.

How is the government formed?

Final results will be announced two days after the vote, and only a week later will President Reuven Rivlin task a party with building the next coalition. He’ll first consult with all the parties that made it into parliament to see who they think can put together a government. That task doesn’t automatically go to the party with the largest number of seats, but to the party deemed best able to form a ruling coalition with at least 61 Knesset members.

What if that effort fails?

The candidate Rivlin taps has 42 days to form a coalition. If it proves impossible, the president can give two more parties a try before the Knesset is dispersed and new elections are held.

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