Israel has gone to the polls for the fourth election in less than two years, with the nation still divided over whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deserves to remain in office.
Polling stations were opening across Israel and in the occupied West Bank, with some 6.5 million registered voters set to deliver a result that could prolong the worst period of political gridlock in the country’s history.
Al Jazeera’s Natasha Ghoneim said the atmosphere surrounding the election from voters and analysts alike it grim.
“I’ve been speaking to voters and a couple of sentiments keep popping up: fear and a lack of hope,” she said, speaking from West Jerusalem.
“The general consensus amongst pollsters, analysts and voters is that the status quo will remain in this election.”
Israelis vote for parties, not individual candidates. During Israel’s 72-year history, no single party list of candidates has been able to form a governing majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
Netanyahu has portrayed himself as a global statesman uniquely qualified to lead the country through its many security and diplomatic challenges.
He has made Israel’s coronavirus-vaccination campaign the centrepiece of his re-election bid and pointed to last year’s diplomatic agreements with four Arab states.
Opponents accuse Netanyahu of bungling the management of the coronavirus pandemic for most of the past year.
They say he failed to enforce lockdown restrictions on his ultra-Orthodox political allies, allowing the virus to spread, and point to the still-dire state of the economy and its double-digit unemployment rate. They also say Netanyahu is unfit to rule at a time when he is on trial for multiple corruption charges, a case he dismisses as a witch hunt.
Tuesday’s election was triggered by the disintegration of an emergency government formed last May between Netanyahu and his chief rival Benny Gantz to manage the coronavirus pandemic. The alliance was plagued by infighting and elections were triggered by the government’s failure in December last year to agree on a budget.
What do the polls say?
Analysts expect voter fatigue to contribute to lower turnout which had been at 71 percent in the most recent election a year ago.
Netanyahu’s religious and nationalist allies tend to be highly motivated voters.
In contrast, Palestinian citizens of Israel, disappointed with the disintegration of the umbrella “Joint List” party, are expected to stay home in larger numbers this time around. Voters in the more liberal and secular areas around Tel Aviv also tend to have lower rates of participation.
Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud is expected to emerge as the biggest party, but falling short of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset and unable to easily form a coalition government – similar to the three previous elections.
That means Israel is looking at three possible outcomes: Another coalition under Netanyahu, an ideologically divided government united only by its opposition to him, or a looming fifth election.
Ghoneim said the election is “essentially a referendum on Netanyahu” who is expected to prevail.
“He will not get that magic 61 seats in the Knesset that is needed to form a government outright,” she said. “It is expected he’ll get 30, maybe 33 seats and then once again – as he’s had to do in previous elections – he’ll have to cobble together a coalition as we’ve seen in 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.
Actual results will begin trickling in overnight into Wednesday but final results are expected around Friday.
Source: Al Jazeera