Israelis began voting for the fifth time in less than four years on Tuesday, with former premier Benjamin Netanyahu bidding for a comeback, Reuters news agency reported.
After years of deadlock, voter exasperation may hurt turnout, but surging support for the ultra-nationalist Religious Zionism bloc and firebrand co-leader, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has galvanized the campaign.
Israel’s longest-serving premier Netanyahu is on trial on corruption charges but his rightist Likud party is still expected to finish as the largest in Parliament.
However, the final opinion polls from last week showed him still short of the 61 seats needed for a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, opening the prospect of weeks of coalition wrangling and, possibly, new elections.
As Netanyahu’s legal problems have continued, Ben-Gvir and fellow far-right leader, Bezalel Smotrich, have eaten into Likud’s traditional hawkish base and the once-marginal Religious Zionism is now set to be the third-largest party in Parliament.
Ben-Gvir is a former member of Kach, a group on Israeli and US terrorist watch lists.
Casting his vote in the illegal Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, where he lives, Ben-Gvir told reporters: “Here, with one ballot, hopefully, Netanyahu will become prime minister, (and) a right-wing government will be formed”.
Lapid has campaigned on diplomatic advances with countries including Turkiye and Lebanon, as well as on a solid performance by the Israeli economy which has weathered the turbulent global environment in relatively good shape.
(MEMO, PC, SOCIAL)