Netanyahu calls early election for April

Political turbulence comes against the backdrop of criminal investigations that have hit Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Just a day before Christmas Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called early elections for April, nearly eight months earlier than required by law, setting the stage for a three-month campaign clouded by a series of corruption investigations against the long-serving Israeli leader. The announcement was made after the leaders of Israel's coalition government decided "in agreement and unanimously, to disperse the Knesset (parliament) and call for new elections," as Netanyahu himself confirmed at a press conference the same day.

Meanwhile, the speaker of the Knesset, Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, confirmed the elections would be held on April 9.

The move comes after Netanyahu's right-wing government has been battling difficulties on several fronts in the last few months. The latest crisis in Netanyahu's government began when his defence minister resigned in opposition to an Israeli ceasefire with Gaza militants last month. The withdrawal of Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his Israel Our Home party left Netanyahu's government clinging to a one-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset. This forced the PM Benjamin Netanyahu to hold talks with ministers, so he could keep his own coalition intact and avoid being left with a minority government.

So what now? Riding high in the polls, Netanyahu appears all but certain to win a fourth consecutive term and a place in history as the country's longest-serving prime minister. His supporters point to a humming, high-tech economy, his handling of security issues, particularly countering the threat of Iranian influence in the region, and his gains on the diplomatic stage, including a close alliance with President Donald Trump that has paid important dividends.Yet, critics say these gains have come at a deep price to Israel's democratic ideals. Netanyahu's hard-line government has promoted a series of laws that critics say are aimed at muzzling liberal critics and sidelining the minority Arab population. They point to wide gaps between rich and poor and high cost of living, and say that by neglecting the Palestinian issue and continuing to build settlements in the West Bank, the country is on the path to becoming an apartheid-like binational state.

Moreover, political turbulence comes against the backdrop of criminal investigations that have hit Netanyahu and his inner circle, which raises the possibility of his bright prospects to be derailed. As Europost reminds, Israeli police say there is enough evidence to indict Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in three separate investigations. The PM  made scant mention of these investigations at a gathering of his Likud Party as he announced plans for what is expected to be an April 9 vote. Appearing loose and confident, he listed his government's accomplishments in office and said he hoped his current religious, nationalistic coalition would be the "core" of Israel's next government as well.

"We will ask the voters for a clear mandate to continue leading the state of Israel our way," he said to applause from party members.

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