Israel went to the polls in less than two years for the fourth election, and the country is still divided over whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deserves to stay.
Polls opened across Israel and in the occupied West Bank, with about 6.5 million registered voters casting a ballot that could prolong the worst period of political networking in the country’s history.
Israelis vote for parties, not individual candidates. Throughout Israel’s 72-year history, no single candidate list has formed a ruling majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
Netanyahu has described himself as a global executive who is unique in leading the country through its many security and diplomatic challenges.
He made Israel’s coronavirus vaccination campaign the focus of his bid for re-election and pointed to diplomatic agreements with four Arab states last year.
Opponents accuse Netanyahu of ruining the management of the coronavirus pandemic in the past year.
They say he has failed to impose lock-in restrictions on his ultra-Orthodox political allies and spread the virus, pointing to the still dire state of the economy and its double-digit unemployment rate. They also stated Netanyahu is unable to rule at a time when he is facing several corruption charges, a case he dismisses as a witch hunt.
Tuesday’s election was caused by the disintegration of an emergency government formed between Netanyahu and his main rival Benny Gantz in May last year to manage the coronavirus pandemic. The alliance was plagued by infighting, and elections were prompted by the government’s failure in December last year to agree on a budget.
Analysts expect voter fatigue to contribute to a lower turnout, which was 71 percent in the last election a year ago.
Netanyahu’s religious and nationalist partners tend to be extremely motivated electors.
On the other hand, Palestinian citizens of Israel, disappointed with the disintegration of the umbrella party ‘Joint List’, are required to stay home in larger numbers this time. Citizens in the more progressive and secular areas around Tel Aviv also have lower turnout.
Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud is supposed to appear as the largest party, but he does not have a 120-seat majority in the Knesset and could not easily form a coalition government – similar to the three previous elections.
This means that Israel is looking at three possible outcomes: another coalition under Netanyahu, an ideologically divided government united only by its opposition to him, or an impending fifth election.
Ghoneim said the election was “essentially a referendum on Netanyahu”, which was expected to win.