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It’s do or die for Bibi now

  Jerusalem: I srael went to the polls on Tuesday in the country's fourth parliamentary election in two years. Opinion polls foretell ...


Jerusalem: Israel went to the polls on Tuesday in the country's fourth parliamentary election in two years.

Opinion polls foretell a tight race between those who support Israel's longest-serving PM Benjamin Netanyahu and those who want "anyone but Bibi”.. 

Netanyahu has always portrayed himself as a global statesman uniquely qualified to lead the country through its security and diplomatic challenges. He has made Israel's successful coronavirus-vaccination campaign the focal point of his re-election endeavour, referring to last year's diplomatic agreements with four Arab states.

Opponents accuse the PM of messing up the management of the Coronavirus pandemic for most of last year. He failed to enforce lockdown restrictions on his ultra-Orthodox political allies, allowing the virus to spread, and point to the dire state of the economy and its abysmal unemployment rate, they say. 

They believe that Netanyahu is unfit to rule at a time when he is on trial for multiple corruption charges, something he has dismissed as a witch hunt. 

Up to 15 per cent of the electorate is expected to vote outside their home districts, a batch of absentee balloting that's larger than usual to accommodate those with coronavirus or in quarantine. The government is arranging special polling stations, including vehicles, to provide places for them to vote safely. 

These votes will be counted separately in Jerusalem, thus the final results may not be known for days. Given the tight race, the large number of undecided voters and a number of small parties struggling to cross the 3.25% threshold for entry into parliament, it could be difficult to predict the outcome before the final count is over.

Israelis have always voted for parties, not individual candidates. Not a single party list of candidates has been able to form a governing majority in Israel's 72-year history. 

Netanyahu's Likud Party and those led by his rivals will be looking to smaller, allied parties as potential coalition partners. The party which can get together a majority coalition will be able to form the next government, a process that can take a few weeks.

Tuesday's election was triggered by the disintegration of an emergency government formed in May 2020 between Netanyahu and his chief rival to manage the Coronavirus pandemic. The alliance was hit by infighting, and elections were triggered by the government's failure in December to come to an agreement on a budget.

Netanyahu is keen to form a government with his traditional religious and hardline nationalist allies which include a pair of ultra-Orthodox parties and a small religious party that includes racist candidates.

The PM’s rivals have accused him of causing the past two years of paralysis in the hope of forming a more favourable government that would provide him immunity or protect him from prosecution.

His challengers include Yair Lapid, Israel's Opposition leader whose Yesh Atid Party has emerged as the main centrist alternative to Netanyahu.

Netanyahu also faces challenges from a number of one-time allies who have formed their own parties after break-ups with the prime minister. They include former protege Gideon Saar, who broke away from Likud to form New Hope. His party is a nationalist alternative unburdened by corruption charges and what he says is a cult of personality that keeps Likud in power. 

Yamina Party leader Naftali Bennett, another former Netanyahu loyalist, may well emerge as the kingmaker. A hardline nationalist politician who had been Netanyahu's education and defence minister, Bennett has not ruled out joining a coalition with the embattled PM, allowing him to court both sides in future coalition talks.


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