Some of the parties running in the Knesset elections may surprise you.Winston Churchill, in a 1947 speech, said that: “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

That certainly describes Israeli democracy – clearly a flawed system, but the best we have. Over the next few months and years I am certain that some of the kinks in that system will be ironed out and improved. Slowly, but it will happen.

Another national election has been thrust upon Israel. Issues central to Israel’s future will be debated as each party attempts to educate the people, to convince the masses, that only they will be able to save the nation. It is at such junctures of history and politics that we are all witness to the greatness of democracy.

The election takes place on January 28. By law, elections in Israel are always on a Tuesday. Were this not an early election it would take place on the last Tuesday of the Hebrew, lunar, calendar month of Heshvan. Tuesday is somewhat of a misnomer, however. The law, Article 4 of the Basic Law of the Knesset, actually reads: “the third, third day of the week in the month of Heshvan.” On the Gregorian, solar, calendar that usually puts it around the first Tuesday in November – similar to elections in the United States.

This time around twenty-nine parties will compete for 120 seats in the Israel Knesset. The number of seats actually won is designated by the percentage of the national vote. With one caveat. In order to receive a first seat, a party must receive a minimum 1.5% of all votes cast. Of the 4.5 million Israelis over the age of 18, about 80% of eligible voters will cast ballots on election day. That means that the minimum number of votes necessary before getting even one seat in parliament is about 81,000 – no small feat for some of the smaller parties.

Some of the parties have been around since the creation of the state; others are new to this election. Some parties have been trying – unsuccessfully – to get elected over the past several elections. The process necessary to become a recognized, official party, eligible to run in an election, is simple and straightforward. Register 1,500 eligible voters and deposit a minimal bond, refunded after the election if the party receives at least 1.5% of the vote – that is, if they are voted at least one seat in the Knesset. Three ideological limitations are placed on the parties – that they not negate the existence of the State as a State for the Jewish people, that they not negate the democratic nature of the State, that they not incite racism.

All lists were closed and handed in to the Central Election Committee by December 12, 2002.

Some of the parties will surprise you.

Men’s Rights in the Family is a party running for Knesset. Its platform is that men are abused in the family situation, that courts often rule against them in family conflicts, that men are true victims, not women. This is the party’s second go at the Knesset. Once again, it will probably not garner enough votes to get the requisite 1.5%.

Different Israel Party is a party that, at least according to current polls, will probably get one or even two Knesset seats. Their platform is shocking. They boast that all their candidates have absolutely no experience in politics. They are suggesting that real change is necessary and that it can only happen from the outside. In actuality – this is an anarchist party, but it breaks no election law rules. In many places one can claim that innocence and lack of experience are beneficial – but not, in my opinion, in politics. That’s one of the major criticisms leveled against Labor party leader Mitzna – that he has never served in Knesset. Although some politicians may be corrupt, the system itself is good and one cannot, should not, get rid of it, but rather, work with it. Nevertheless, these candidates are striking a cord with at least some Israelis.

The Cannabis – Marijuana Party is taking its second stab at the Knesset. This time, however, the polls are showing that it may indeed receive two seats. Obviously party members want to legalize dope. But since the last election they have actually expanded their platform and have planks relating to economics, to the Palestinians and they even have a peace plan. The National Chief of Police has asked that they be removed from the election because they publicly advocate an illegal act, but as of now they are hot and smoking, pun intended.

The Love of Israel Party is this election’s competition with the popular Shas party. Israel’s famous mystic and leading religious guru, Rabbi Kadourie, a former backer of Shas, has switched loyalties and thrown his support behind his grandson’s party. Fervent followers must now decide how to split their own loyalties.

The Citizen and State Party, the Green Environmental Party, the Action Party and there’s more. There are four Arab parties and they will probably, collectively, get eleven seats in the next Knesset which puts them at just under 10% of the vote.

Most parties, when it comes down to the vote, do not have a real chance. But sometimes there are unexpected outcomes and even upsets. And that’s what makes it interesting. And that’s what we call a democracy.

Reprinted with permission by Israel Insider.