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'Make Israel normal again': The stakes are high for Netanyahu in an unprecedented election

It’s the first time in Israeli history that two elections will be held in one year.

Updated Sep 17th 2019, 12:37 PM

ISRAEL IS HAVING an Ireland 1982 moment by heading to the polls for the second time in the same calendar year today.

It’s the first time in the country’s history that two elections will be held in one year. The vote is seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is looking to win a record fifth term. A loss would likely bring an end to the Likud party leader’s decade-long dominance of Israeli politics.

israel-elections An election campaign billboard for the Likud party. Source: AP/PA Images

As with April’s election, Netanyahu’s main opposition is former army chief Benny Gantz and his centrist Blue and White alliance.

So, why are they voting again?

No party has ever won an outright majority in the Knesset (the country’s legislature) in the 71 years since the State of Israel was established. Post-election coalition building has always been a vital part of the process, with political horse trading sometimes going on for weeks after ballots are counted.

After April’s vote Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White were both tied on 35 seats in the 120-seat parliament.

leader-of-israeli-blue-and-white-party-campaigns-in-tel-aviv Leader of the Israeli Blue and White party Benny Gantz. Source: DPA/PA Images

Netanyahu looked to be in the driving seat with the support of his right-wing allies, but he failed to form a coalition after his former defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, pulled the support of his secular-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is our home) party.

The 69-year-old premier then triggered another round of elections by forcing the parliament to dissolve to prevent Israeli President Reuven Rivlin from selecting another person to try to form a government.

The stakes are high for Netanyahu, who is facing a pre-trial hearing next month in connection with three separate corruption cases. If he wins a majority, the Knesset could grant him immunity from prosecution until the end of his term.

israel-elections Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Source: AMIR COHEN

How will it shake out?

The final opinion polls in the run-up to today’s vote captured a race that was too close to call, with Likud and Blue and White once again neck and neck.

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This would leave a range of options on the table including either man forming a government, the two leaders forming a unity government together, or even another round of elections, something everyone is likely looking to avoid.

The polls suggest that Lieberman’s gambit could pay off as Yisrael Beiteinu is forecast to double its number of seats, from five to 10. This would likely leave him as kingmaker and bring his campaign to “make Israel normal again” to the fore in the next government.

mideast-jerusalem-netanyahu-lieberman-parliament Avigdor Lieberman, head of Israel's Yisrael Beiteinu party. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

The eye-catching slogan is a reference to what Lieberman says is the exaggerated influence of ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties on Israeli politics.

Lieberman has said he would only join a unity government featuring both Likud and Blue and White but he has proven to be something of a wildcard, making several unexpected moves in the past.

Whatever way the election goes today, the political battle will kick-off in earnest when all the votes are counted.

About the author:

Céimin Burke

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