קלפי בירושלים
Polling station in Jerusalem
Photo: AFP
Polling station in Jerusalem

Array of contenders seek to topple Netanyahu

In-depth: In addition to centrist Yair Lapid, Netanyahu this time also faces a new challenge from right-wing contenders, including Naftali Bennett and former Likud minister Gideon Saar; is round five a possibility?

Reuters, Associated Press |
Published: 03.23.21 , 09:03
Israelis began voting in their fourth election in two years on Tuesday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hopes the country's world-leading coronavirus vaccine rollout will finally push him through an era of unprecedented political paralysis and into a stable majority.
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  • But Netanyahu, the dominant politician of his generation, is a polarizing figure in Israel. And for the first time challengers from across the political spectrum are vying to end the long reign of "King Bibi".
    6 צפייה בגלריה
    קלפי בירושלים
    קלפי בירושלים
    Polling station in Jerusalem
    (Photo: AFP)
    FOUR ELECTIONS? WHAT'S THIS ONE ABOUT?
    The same as the last three, plus coronavirus.
    Netanyahu, 71, is running under the cloud of corruption allegations, which he denies. His trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust has already begun and is expected to resume in April.
    On top of that, Israel's economy has been hit hard by the pandemic, and public anger mounted over Netanyahu's handling of the crisis, until the vaccinations began in December.
    Netanyahu's new slogan is "Vaccination Nation" and he says he is the only one who could have achieved such a fast inoculation program.
    Israel's longest-serving leader has also trumpeted Israel's diplomatic breakthroughs since August with Gulf countries, Morocco and Sudan, all brokered by the United States.
    6 צפייה בגלריה
    בנימין נתניהו
    בנימין נתניהו
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
    (Photo: Hadar Yoavian)
    WHAT DO THE OPINION POLLS SAY?
    No clear winner.
    Netanyahu's right-wing Likud is expected to emerge as the biggest party, but falling short of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset (parliament) and unable to easily form a coalition government - similar to the three previous elections.
    While surveys show a small majority of Israelis want to see Netanyahu out of office, the fragmented opposition also has no clear path to power, with no single agreed candidate to lead the anti-Netanyahu camp.
    Voting started at 7am and Israel's three main TV stations air exit polls at 10pm on Tuesday. Actual results will begin trickling in overnight into Wednesday but final results are expected around Friday.
    Results have often differed from exit polls.
    WHO ARE NETANYAHU'S RIVALS?
    6 צפייה בגלריה
    יאיר לפיד בריאיון באולפן
    יאיר לפיד בריאיון באולפן
    Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid
    (Photo: Kobi Koaneks)
    In the past three elections Netanyahu's rivals came from the left. This time around he faces a new challenge from right-wing contenders as well.
    Yair Lapid, 57, a former finance minister and TV host, who leads the center-left party Yesh Atid - "There is a Future". His party, currently in opposition, is predicted to come in second after Likud.
    6 צפייה בגלריה
    New Hope chair, Gideon Saar
    New Hope chair, Gideon Saar
    New Hope chair, Gideon Saar
    (Photo: Kobi Koaneks)
    Gideon Saar, 54, a former cabinet minister who quit Likud to set up the New Hope party, vowing to end Netanyahu's reign. Like Likud, his party opposes Palestinian statehood, though Saar's campaign has centered on clean government and jump-starting the economy.
    Naftali Bennett, 48, a former Netanyahu aide, cabinet minister and hi-tech millionaire who heads the ultra-hawkish Yamina party and is vying with Saar to be the next leader of the Israeli right.
    6 צפייה בגלריה
    Yamina leader Naftali Bennet
    Yamina leader Naftali Bennet
    Yamina leader Naftali Bennet
    (Photo: Kobi Koaneks)
    Positioning himself as a potential king-maker, Bennett has refused to commit to an anti-Netanyahu alliance or to the pro-Netanyahu camp, neither of which could form a government without his backing, according to the polls.
    Benny Gantz, 61, a former general whose Blue & White party was torn apart after he joined Netanyahu in a coalition. He argued the need for a national unity government, but many of his centrist supporters were furious. His popularity plunged and polls show his party may not win any seats.
    6 צפייה בגלריה
    Blue & White Chairman Benny Gantz
    Blue & White Chairman Benny Gantz
    Blue & White Chairman Benny Gantz
    (Photo: Kobi Koaneks)
    ROUND FIVE?
    No Israeli party has ever won an outright majority in parliament, which forces larger parties to cobble together ruling coalitions with smaller allies.
    Reaching a final tally is expected to take longer than usual because of the extraordinary number of absentee ballots and the beginning of the Passover holiday next Sunday, normally a work day. Unlike previous elections, people sick with coronavirus or in quarantine will be casting "double envelope" ballots along with Israeli diplomats overseas, soldiers and prisoners. Those take longer to count because they're sent to Jerusalem for tallying.
    After the election, Israel's president will meet with party heads and select the party he deems most capable of forming a coalition. That party, which is usually but not always the largest faction, then has four weeks to form a coalition. A new government will be given a four-year term, but disagreements between coalition parties often result in early elections.
    If neither side manages to form a coalition, the country's two-year-long political crisis could drag out into a fifth election.

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