Israeli elections seen as referendum on Netanyahu who is standing trial on corruption charges | World News


Israelis are voting in general elections today for the fifth time in a little under four years, with the outcome uncertain and the prospect of yet more elections already a possibility.

The poll is being seen as a referendum on former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is Israel’s longest-serving leader and has been in power for 15 of the past 26 years but now finds himself in opposition.

The latest polls show his political bloc one seat short of an overall majority.

Voter turnout will be an important factor amid fears of apathy.

At the last election, turnout was down to around 67% compared to the previous election, a year earlier, when it was 71.5%.

The economy and security are two of the most important issues for Israelis going into the vote, especially during a period of heightened violence.

Mr Netanyahu is currently standing trial on corruption charges – this has alienated many of his traditional political allies and so he has turned to far-right parties in a bid to build a coalition.

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If Mr Netanyahu is elected, it could see a senior ministerial post for Itamar Ben-Gvir, a controversial politician who has been convicted for incitement to racism and was once declared unfit for office by Mr Netanyahu himself.

Recently though, Mr Ben-Gvir has been courted by Mr Netanyahu, who is hoping to benefit from the ultranationalists’ growing appeal, particularly amongst young Israelis.

Israeli far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir holds up both hands in the 'V for victory' gesture from behind a podium at a news conference
Itamar Ben-Gvir pictured doing a ‘V for victory’ gesture at a news conference

Mr Netanyahu’s tactic could backfire though – extremist parties have seen a surge in support in recent months, and they could end up taking votes from Mr Netanyahu himself.

Mr Ben-Gvir has regularly been at the centre of trouble in Jerusalem, and his temporary office in the disputed east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah has caused violent clashes.

‘I’ll mow you down’

During recent violence in the district, he brandished a gun and was heard shouting at Palestinians there, saying: “I’ll mow you down. We’re the landlords here, remember that, I am your landlord.”

Mr Ben-Gvir has repeatedly called for “disloyal” Palestinians to be deported and labelled Arab politicians as “terrorists”.

The current prime minister, Yair Lapid, who heads an interim eight-party coalition government, is campaigning on a promise of unity and stability.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid. Pic: AP
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s party is currently lagging in the polls. Pic: AP

The former television presenter and centrist politician is a well-known figure in Israel but his Yesh Atid party is currently lagging in the polls.

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Whoever wins will likely find it hard to build a coalition capable of governing.

Some 61 seats are need for an outright majority in the 120-seat Knesset, but neither side has so far achieved that in pre-election polling.

Another inconclusive result could lead to drawn out coalition negotiations and possibly a sixth election.

High turnout could help Netanyahu rivals

The election takes place against increasing violence in the West Bank. At least 120 Palestinians and 20 Israelis have been killed this year.

A high turnout amongst the Israeli-Arab population could benefit Mr Netanyahu’s opponents.

The outgoing coalition includes an Arab party, a first in Israeli political history, but their failure to deliver meaningful change or progress for Israeli-Arabs could result in a low turnout amongst that group.

Although the winner is likely to be known late on Tuesday night, negotiations to form a coalition government could take many days, even weeks.


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