Israel's voting system reflects the many different political currents in society, but it has also been behind the repeated failure of governments to form stable coalitions. The country's proportional representation system means that any party can enter the 120-member parliament, or Knesset, if it passes a threshold of two percent of the popular vote. The number of seats that party secures is proportional to the number of votes received.
In Tuesday's election, the 18th since the Jewish state's creation in 1948, more than five million citizens will be allowed to vote at 9,263 polling stations across the country. Thirty-three parties will battle for seats in the next Knesset, reflecting the country's eclectic political map. Polls predict that only around half of them are expected to enter parliament, however.
After the official results, President Shimon Peres has seven days in which to entrust forming the next government to the party leader who says he or she is ready to do so.
The party leader then has 28 days to put together a coalition. If necessary, Peres can extend the deadline by another 14 days. If a coalition fails to emerge, he can assign another party leader with the task and this person also has 28 days to form a government.
If this bid fails, Peres can then assign the task to a third person, but should this person not succeed within 14 days the president then calls a new election. Whoever gets first shot at forming a coalition of at least 61 MPs is generally the leader of the party that wins the most votes, although this is not mandatory.
No single party in Israel has ever been able to secure the necessary 61 majority to enable it to rule alone. Twice—in 1996 and 1999—Israelis voted directly for a prime minister as well as for a party list. In 2001, a special prime ministerial election was held after Labour premier Ehud Barak was unable to win the Knesset's support.
Creating a coalition can be painstaking, as the leading party must accommodate different parties demanding portfolios in the new cabinet, each with its own agenda.
This is the main source of instability in most Israeli governments, with only six of the past 17 parliaments able to complete their four-year mandate.
Over the past 13 years alone, elections have been called six times after parties withdrew their support from the government. The success of the political haggling that begins immediately after election day will determine how strong and viable Israel's next government becomes.