Direct Election Held for Prime Minister

February 6, 2001

In the only instance in Israel’s history, a direct election is held for Prime Minister without a simultaneous election for the Knesset. Ariel Sharon (shown in the photo casting his vote) won in a landslide over the incumbent Ehud Barak. The 62.4% of the vote received by Sharon was the largest margin in Israeli election history, although the election had a comparatively low voter turnout of only 62.3%.

One month after the election, the Knesset amended the electoral system and returned to its original proportional election system where voters cast ballots for parties, and the leader of the party plurality would be usually asked by the Israeli president to form the next government as Israel’s Prime Minister.

The elections were set in motion by Ehud Barak’s resignation on December 10th during the Second Intifada and following the failure of the 2000 peace talks with the Palestinians. The resignation was also a politically motivated move designed to prevent former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from running against Barak. According to Israeli election law at the time, Netanyahu was not eligible to run because he was not a current member of the Knesset.

Upon his resignation, Barak stated, “I will officially advise the President of my resignation (and) in 60 days … go to special elections for prime minister… Due to the emergency situation the country is in … and the need to continue reducing the violence and moving forward the chances of peace negotiations, I have decided to ask again for the mandate of the people of Israel.”