Jerusalem, Mar 23 (PTI):
Israelis returned to polling stations early Tuesday for an unprecedented fourth time in two years in what is being largely seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s continuance at the helm of affairs amid his ongoing trial on corruption charges as well as his handling of the pandemic.
The elections were called barely seven months after the last government was formed after the Likud and Blue and White party failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline. The two parties had fought each other bitterly in the three ultimately inconclusive elections throughout 2019 and 2020 but agreed in May 2020 to form a power-sharing government with a rotating premiership between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. The unity government collapsed in December.
As per the election commission, 6,578,084 Israelis are eligible to vote for any of the 38 parties running in the elections in 13,685 polling stations across the country, including 750 special polling stations for the sick and quarantined due to COVID-19.
Exit polls will be broadcast by the leading channels but the final results will be out only on March 31 after the votes from special polling stations, of soldiers, emissaries and prisoners are also properly tallied by Thursday or Friday.
Buoyed by a successful vaccination drive, one of the fastest in the world per capita, Netanyahu, 71, has put it at the forefront of his campaign claiming that under his leadership Israel has become the first country in the world to beat the COVID-19 pandemic.
He yet again faces a tough challenge of putting together a coalition post-elections with some determined “friends turn foes” looking to end his long-run.
The Prime Minister has made Israel’s handling of the pandemic, especially its robust vaccine drive, personal by regular appearances in nationally televised addresses towards the beginning of the pandemic and later obsessively negotiating vaccine deals with pharmaceutical companies.
Netanyahu’s early recognition of the perils of the pandemic has been hailed by several international leaders, and also political analysts who appreciated his political acumen in identifying an opportunity in a crisis while most of the world failed to grasp the intensity of the problem.
Netanyahu hailed the country’s “green” COVID-19 vaccination passports recently, saying Israel was “coming to life”. and his latest campaign slogan, bringing Israeli society “back to life”, may be his best chance at keeping his political career alive. The vexed Palestinian issue has been largely out of political discourse.
Jerusalem, Mar 23 (PTI):