NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 10 – About 4,200 Israeli voters, who work in about 100 embassies abroad cast their votes for their preferred candidates on Thursday.
The diplomatic staff participated in the exercise ahead of the January 22 election that was unexpectedly called by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Diplomats in New Zealand were the first to exercise their democratic right using their diplomatic passports while those in Los Angeles would be last due to different in time zones.
In Kenya, Israeli Ambassador Gil Haskel explained that all votes would be sealed and tallied alongside those cast on January 22.
“This ballot box will be sealed tonight and it will be sent back to the Central Election Committee and the envelopes will be opened on the day of the elections to be counted,” he said.
After voting, the ballot paper is placed inside a white envelope which is sealed and placed inside a slightly larger blue envelope before it is marked by the voters’ details and placed inside the pouch.
The pouch is then sealed using metallic plates and sent to Israel.
“This helps ensure that diplomats don’t go back to Israel to vote again,” he noted.
He however explained that those who live outside Israel but do not work in missions, will have to go back home to vote.
Haskel also revealed that there were about half a million Israelis abroad including some 400 who live in Kenya.
“There is a debate in Israel over whether Israelis overseas should be allowed to vote but at the moment the system is not there and we are moving towards that. About 20 to 30 percent of Israelis travel back to vote,” explained Haskel.
It is also interesting to note that Israelis do not have a voter registration system because they are registered automatically once they attain the age of 18.
An official identification card, a valid passport, a valid driver’s license or a Knesset member ID card can be used for voting.
Although the Israeli system requires that all these documents contain a picture, the Interior Minister may approve identification without a photo in cases that involve Muslim women wearing veils.
“A voter is automatically added to the registrar of voters and he or she gets a request to vote by mail. He or she also gets an explanation of where to vote because we only vote in a single ballot in the area allocated,” he observed.
Haskel also challenged Kenyans to ensure that the highly anticipated general elections in March are peaceful. He said Israel would provide any assistance to Kenya, as need may be, to facilitate a peaceful poll.
“We have a long tradition of 65 years of very heated elections on the one hand but very peaceful on the other. We have never experienced violent elections so we will be pleased to share our experience with Kenya,” he said.
The main contenders in the Israeli election are current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Labour Party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich.
Haskel says that the campaigns have been tense with Palestinian issues topping the agenda. The Israeli middle class also wants the huge gap between the rich and the poor reduced so that wealth is distributed equitably.
“The campaigning period of Israel at this point in time was rather short because these elections were called less than two months ago but Middle Eastern, Palestinian/Israeli issues are always very high in the agenda,” he said.