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Israelis weighing choices as election day draws near


10:45, January 15, 2013

JERUSALEM, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- With eight remaining days until fateful national elections for Israel's Knesset (parliament) and government on Jan. 22, the nation's 5.6 million eligible voters are weighing their choice for leading the country in the next four years.

Latest polls, however, show that some 30 percent of voters remain undecided as to whom they want to vote for to play that crucial role in the 120-member unicameral legislature.

Meanwhile, as the clock ticks down to election day, in the street and in Israeli media, it is all politics, all the time.

On Jan. 8, television and radio spots began echoing across the airwaves, online and in print, with both veteran and new parties vying for the hearts and minds of voters with boisterous and even politically daring ads.

The Central Elections Committee (CEC), which oversees both pre- election campaigning, and voting day itself, said it expects to staff and supply more than 10,000 voting stations.

Besides schools and public locales, ballot boxes will be installed and monitored at hospitals, prisons, and other sites, according to CEC officials.

Active duty soldiers vote at polling stations set up in their units, and in the field, with ballots collected up to 72 hours before election day.

Particular arrangements are made for prison inmates to vote, as well as for those confined to hospitals. Disabled persons who are ambulatory can vote in one of the 1,549 special voting stations designed for accessibility.

While there are no absentee ballots for Israelis abroad, almost 4,300 Israeli envoys at 96 embassies and consulates worldwide cast their ballots last Thursday.

"Elections are always something very important, and we happen to have the good fortune to be the first ones doing it," Shemi Tzur, Israel's ambassador to New Zealand, told the Times of Israel.

Voters enter booths to choose a paper slip from a tray, with each slip printed with one to three Hebrew or Arabic letters signifying their chosen party. They then seal them in envelopes, and drop them in ballot boxes before election committee officials.

The electoral system, according to Article 4 of the "Basic Law: The Knesset," states that: "The Knesset shall be elected by general, national, direct, equal, secret and proportional elections, in accordance with the Knesset Elections Law."

The number of seats won by every party list proportional to the number of voters, with a two percent qualifying threshold. For example, if a party wins 20 seats, their list's top 20 candidates will be eligible to sit in the Knesset. In the case of a resignation, incapacitation or death, the next party member on the list will take the preceding member's slot.

Israel is a single electoral district in the direct elections, which are held every four years. All votes are equal and cast in secret ballots for party lists, and not individual candidates.

All citizens, at least 18 years of age, have the right to vote, and anyone over the age of 21 can run for office, although candidacy is barred to the president, the state comptroller, judges, a chief Rabbi, and the army chief-of-staff and senior officers. All of the above are required to resign their post in a period stipulated by law before being able to run for office.

Conversely, the CEC can bar a party from running if they expressly or by implication, negate Israel's existence as the state of the Jewish people, negate the country's democratic character, or incite to racism, according to the Foreign Ministry.

The Supreme Court, however, can overturn the CEC's ruling, as in the case of Arab Balad party member, Hanin Zoabi, on Dec. 30, 2012.

Earlier, the CEC had voted 19 to 9 to disqualify Zoabi from taking a part in the upcoming elections, for her activities in the Mavi Marmara flotilla in May 2010, which set out to break naval blockade on the Gaza Strip.

Nine Turkish activists were killed and dozens hurt during pitched battles between the activist on board and Israeli soldiers, who came aboard to commandeer the craft.

She was also involved in altercations with right-wing lawmakers during Knesset debates.

Election day is a national holiday, with free public transportation for voters who are outside their polling districts.

Polls are set to open at 7:00 a.m. local time, and remain open until 10:00 p.m..

The government requires a supporting coalition of at least 61 Knesset members. However, no single party has ever received enough seats to be able to form a government by itself, leading to coalition-building among the winning parties.

The Knesset has up to 28 days to form a government, with the president able to extend the term by up to two weeks.

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