Jerusalem, Mar 2 : Israelis streamed to the polls on Monday in an unprecedented third general election in less than a year which is largely seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will go on trial on corruption charges just two weeks after the vote. Long lines were reported at many of the polling stations across the West Asian country.
In addition to the normal polling stations, 16 specially equipped booths were opened for the 5,630 voters who were under home quarantine as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus. The vote is hoped to end the grinding political stalemate in the West Asian country as Netanyahu or his main challenger, Benny Gantz, could not garner enough support from other parties to clinch a majority in the 120-seat parliament following the last two elections.
Israel's political system is based on a form of proportional representation, with parties winning seats based on the number of votes they receive rather than which party gets the most in a particular constituency. This means governments have always been coalitions, sometimes fractious and short-lived. Latest opinion polls suggested the latest round of election is too close to call. Netanyahu, 70, is Israel's longest-serving prime minister, having been in office from 1996 to 1999 and again from 2009. In December, he comfortably won a primary election for leadership of his right-wing Likud party.
Gantz, 60, a retired general who served as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) before entering politics is leading the centrist Blue and White party which won one more seat than Likud in the last election in September. If Blue and White wins, it will bring to an end more than 10 years of rule by Likud, which advocates a right-wing nationalist agenda. If Likud wins and can form a governing coalition, Netanyahu has vowed to annex Jewish settlements and a large corridor of land known as the Jordan Valley, both in the occupied West Bank.
Netanyahu has been ordered to appear in court in Jerusalem on March 17 to hear the indictment against him. He minister was charged in November with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in connection with three separate cases. He has strongly denied any wrongdoing, saying he is the victim of a politically motivated "witch hunt".
But even if convicted, he would not be required to do so until the appeals process was exhausted. Israeli law allows a prime minister to remain in office even if charged with a crime, while requiring other public officials to resign once indicted. (UNI)