"The significance lies not only in the right to choose who will lead our country but also on behalf of the state, the only true democracy in the Middle East."
By REBECCA ANNA STOIL, GREER FAY CASHMAN
With a low predicted voter turnout and a forecast of inclement weather, polling stations across the country prepared to open their doors at 7 a.m. on Tuesday.
President Shimon Peres urged all Israelis to turn out to vote.
"Going to the polls tomorrow is doubly important; the significance lies not only in the right to choose the people who will stand at the head of our country and who will be responsible for its future, but also in the duty of every citizen to vote on behalf of the state, which is the only true democracy in the Middle East," said Peres.
The president announced that he would vote Tuesday morning at the High School for the Arts in Jerusalem.
In recent weeks, 20,000 people completed courses run by the Central Election Committee, preparing them to work at polling stations throughout the country. Of these, 15,000 will be polling-place workers, 5,000 will be party representatives at polling sites and 1,000 will record the regional election returns on Tuesday night.
Workers were required to pass a final exam, but 4,000 of those tested failed despite participating in some of the election committee's 700 instructional meetings.
The committee has run the elections this year with a budget of NIS 206,844,000, or approximately NIS 40 per voter. Nationwide, 9,263 polling stations will operate for 15 hours - from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. - with 56 of those located behind prison walls and 194 in hospitals.
The leader of the party that wins the most Knesset seats will not necessarily be the next prime minister. It all depends on how close the race is and whom all parties that pass the two percent Knesset threshold recommend to Peres as best able to form a stable government.
The president cannot enter into consultations with the party factions until the official publication of the results, which at this stage has been designated as February 18.
However, if the date is moved forward for some reason, the president can immediately begin meeting with party delegations.
According to law, the official results must be published within eight days of the elections.
Members of the president's staff anticipate that the meetings will begin on February 19.
After the president has met with all the factions, he will then task the person deemed most capable of forming a government with doing so. The latest date, according to law, that he can assign a willing MK to form a government is February 25.
Peres was assigned this task by President Chaim Herzog in March 1990, but returned his mandate after five weeks of futile negotiations.
The first time Peres served as prime minister in 1984, it was part of a rotation agreement with Likud, reached with Herzog's assistance. However, unless Peres is specifically asked to do so, he has no intention of nudging a similar agreement in the event of a tie or a one-vote difference.
The person Peres selects has 28 days to put together a government, but can receive a 14-day extension from the president.
If the designated MK is unable to fulfill the assignment within that 42-day period, the president may select another MK. If that person also fails and there is still no government, an absolute majority of Knesset members - at least 61 - may apply to the president in writing and nominate a third MK.
As yet, there has never been a need to resort to this recourse.
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