Israelis vote for the fourth time in two years

Photo: EPA Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara cast their ballots at a polling station in Jerusalem, 23 March 2021.

Israelis began voting on Tuesday on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political survival in a fourth election in two years, with the veteran leader hoping his role in a rapid Covid-19 vaccine campaign will win him another term, Reuters reported. Opinion polls show the race too close to call.

On trial on corruption charges he denies, Netanyahu, 71, is Israel’s longest-serving head of government. Since 2009, he has led the politically polarised nation where supporters hail him as “King Bibi” and opponents call him “crime minister”.

Opinion polls indicated an uptick for Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party in the campaign’s final days, giving a prospective coalition of conservative and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties around 60 seats in the 120-member parliament.

A possible, but more unlikely, alliance among right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties opposed to a Netanyahu-led government also fell short of a ruling majority in the legislature, but could also be within reach of power, the surveys showed.

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. (0500 GMT) and will close at 10 p.m. (2000 GMT), when exit polls could point to voting trends, if not a clear winner. Yair Lapid, a former finance minister who heads the centrist Yesh Atid party, has emerged as Netanyahu’s main challenger.

No one party has ever gleaned enough votes for a parliamentary majority on its own in an Israeli election. Election night results may only be a starting point, with a final winner to be determined in backroom coalition talks.

On the campaign trail, Netanyahu has highlighted his role in securing millions of vaccine doses from Pfizer Inc and turning Israel into what he dubbed a “vaccination nation”.

Netanyahu’s current government, a power-sharing alliance with centrist Defence Minister Benny Gantz, collapsed in December, some seven months after it was established. Gantz’s Blue and White party is forecast to win barely enough votes to get into parliament, after he angered many of his supporters by reneging on a promise not to serve under an indicted prime minister.

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