Israelis vote in 5th general elections in four years as Netanyahu hopes for comeback
Jerusalem, Nov. 1 (PTI): Israelis on Tuesday voted for an unprecedented fifth time in four years to break the political impasse that has paralysed the country, with a large number of voters exercising their franchise in the election in which longtime former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hoping to stage a comeback.
The Jewish nation has been locked in an unprecedented period of political stalemate since 2019, when 73-year-old Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving leader was charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Polling booths opened at 7 am local time. Polls will close at 10 pm but official results are not expected until Wednesday. The process of forming the government could drag on for weeks.
Voting trends till noon saw a surge in turnout with 28.4 per cent Israelis exercising their franchise, the highest since 1999, according to the Central Election Committee (CEC).
The voting percentage in the last election in March last year at the same hour stood at 25.4 per cent.
The morning turnout of voters was also the highest since 1981. As of 10 am, some 1,760,076 people, or 15.9 per cent of voters, had cast their ballots, CEC Director General Orly Ades said.
In comparison, only 14.8 per cent of the public had voted by this time in the last election held in March 2021. About 6.78 million eligible Israeli citizens will elect their 25th Knesset (Israeli Parliament).
Opinion polls predict an incredibly close race with mostly predicting another stalemate, but some giving an edge to the right-wing formation led by Netanyahu looking to make a comeback.
The prospect of the next government seems to be largely hinged on two factors the level of right-wing polarisation, not necessarily in favour of veteran politician Netanyahu but for him to lead the coalition, and the extent of voter apathy, surprisingly, in the Arab sector.
Netanyahu, the longest-serving prime minister and among one of the most polarising ones whose leadership plagued by charges of graft has been at the centre of current instability, is facing a battle of political survival.
He has so far enjoyed the unflinching loyalty of his Likud party and other right-wing parties that have firmly stood behind him.
There were times when the bloc led by him came tantalisingly close to the magical 61 number in the 120-member Knesset, falling short by just one member.
His main rival, caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, is looking for a strong show for his Yesh Atid party that could help him mobilise those political formations opposed to a Netanyahu comeback.
Lapid last time out managed to cobble such a government bringing in strange bedfellows together, including parties from Left, Right and Centre backed for the first time with the support of even an Arab party in an experiment that many saw as historical.
President Isaac Herzog cast his vote in the morning in Jerusalem, urging citizens to exercise their franchise at a time when billions of people in many nations are devoid of this key democratic right.
Israel is a true democracy. Millions of voters will go out today to vote and decide as to the future and direction of our nation. This is a thriving democracy with a multitude of voices…We should always respect this enormous right that we have, as there are so many nations and billions of human beings who unfortunately do not enjoy this right, he said.
Asserting that all votes matter, the 62-year-old Israeli leader urged people not to think otherwise.
“I want to reiterate: voting makes a difference without a shadow of a doubt. Anyone who thinks that his or her vote doesn’t matter is wrong. I, therefore, call on all citizens of this country: exercise your democratic right, and go to vote!, Herzog stressed.
Prime Minister Lapid cast his vote at a polling station near his Tel Aviv home after walking there with his wife, Lihi.
“Good morning, vote wisely. Vote for the State of Israel, the future of our children and our future in general,” he said, dropping a hint to choose his party Yesh Atid (meaning ‘there is a future’).
The 58-year-old leader started the day with a visit to the grave of his father Tommy Lapid, who was a noted journalist and a playwright-turned-politician.
Netanyahu cast his vote in Jerusalem in the morning, accompanied by his wife Sara. He urged everyone to go out and vote, calling it a great privilege .
Cautioning his supporters that early voting trends show higher turnout in Yesh Atid and left-wing areas , he called on Likud sympathisers to come out and vote for the party. I’m a little bit worried, he said, adding, But with the help of everyone who hears us, I hope the day will end in a smile.
Meanwhile, about 40 parties which are contesting are unlikely to get passed the threshold figure of 3.25 per cent votes required to get an entry into the Knesset.
Some 210,720 new voters will be able to vote for the first time, accounting for about four to five seats, adding an interesting dimension to the polls.