Jerusalem: Israelis voted on Tuesday in their country’s second general election in five months, a contest that is being widely seen as a referendum on incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership.
Netanyahu, 69, called the snap election after failing to form a governing coalition with a viable majority after April’s vote.
About 6.3 million eligible Israeli voters started voting Tuesday morning in the unprecedented repeat polls.
Polling booths opened at 7 AM and voters can cast their votes till 10 PM to elect the 22nd Knesset (Israeli parliament) necessitated by the inability of Netanyahu to cobble a coalition of 61 members in a house of 120 following the April 9 elections.
Voting for Israel Defence Forces (IDF) soldiers began Saturday evening at bases around the country, and Israeli diplomats abroad have also already cast their ballots.
In the short period that has passed since the April 9 elections, the number of eligible voters has grown by almost 1 per cent,” the CEO of the Central Elections Committee, Orli Adas, said.
The election is being seen as the toughest political challenge for Netanyahu, something akin to a referendum on the continuity of his more than ten years of uninterrupted leadership at the helm of affairs.
The polls pit Netanyahu, the leader of the right-wing Likud party and Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, against his toughest opponent in years – former military chief Benjamin “Benny” Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party.
Netanyahu voted alongside his wife in Jerusalem.
Gantz while casting his vote called on the country to reject corruption and “extremism”.
“We want new hope. We are voting today for change,” Gantz said
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in a video message on Tuesday morning vowed to “do everything I can to get an elected government in Israel as soon as possible and to avoid another election campaign”.
Rivlin said that if the Knesset fails to form a government, or if the proposed government is rejected, he would task someone else with the role.
“The second option is to inform the Knesset speaker that there is no possibility of forming a government, and there is no escaping a third election campaign,” Rivlin said.
In the event that both scenarios don’t work, the President said he would seek tasking someone who has the support of a majority of 61 lawmakers with the role.
The final opinion polls put Likud party neck and neck with its main challenger, the centrist Blue and White party. Smaller parties could therefore have a big say in the final outcome.
Avigdor Lieberman, an ally-turned-rival of the prime minister and leader of the right-wing secular Yisrael Beiteinu party, could end up holding the balance of power. PTI