Tel Aviv, January 22 – Israeli voters flocked to the polls in near-record numbers on Tuesday to elect the country’s 19th Knesset, registering turnout levels not seen since the country’s hotly contested 1999 election. By 6 p.m., 3.1 million Israelis, or 55.5 percent of the electorate, had cast their ballot.
The voting comes after weeks of pundit predictions, both in Israel and abroad, predicting an apathetic Israeli electorate.
Should the numbers hold up, analysts will likely have to reexamine critical assumptions about the ideology and enthusiasm of Israeli voters. Youth voting has in particular stymied efforts to predict turnout and voting. Israeli media outlets prominently featured first-time voters saying that they had opted to vote for newer parties as alternatives to Israel’s traditional center-right and center-left parties, the Likud and Labor parties respectively.
Israeli analysts have largely assumed that a larger turnout favors Israel’s center-left bloc against the center-right bloc that is largely expected to emerge with a majority. Huge majorities of Israelis have consistently favored compromises with the Palestinians in the pursuit of a two-state solution, and Israeli parties with platforms deemphasizing a peace deal would be advantaged by lower-turnout, niche-voter electoral scenarios.
There are 32 party lists competing in the election, with larger parties focusing on broad political and social issues and various smaller parties proposing specific changes to the electoral system, greater separation of religion and state, and the legalization of cannabis.