Israelis began voting yesterday in an election that could hand right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a record fifth term or see him dethroned by an ex-general who has pledged clean government and social cohesion.
Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) across the country and will close at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT). During the campaign leading up to polling day, the rival parties waged a vitriolic online battle, accusing each other of corruption, fostering bigotry and being soft on security. Netanyahu’s closest rival in the campaign was Benny Gantz, a former chief of the armed forces. Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party, which includes other former generals, has challenged Netanyahu’s hitherto unrivalled national security credentials.
After an election eve visit to the Western Wall, Netanyahu, 69, voted at a polling station in Jerusalem yesterday morning, accompanied by his wife, Sara. “This is truly the essence of democracy and we should be blessed with it,” he said, shaking hands with election officials and posing for selfies. “With God’s help the State of Israel will prevail. Thank you very much. Go to vote.”
Casting his vote in Rosh Ha’ayin near Tel Aviv, Gantz, 59, said: “This is a day of hope, a day of unity. I look into everyone’s eyes and know that we can connect.” After the election Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, is expected to consult the leaders of every party represented in the Knesset and select the person he believes has the best chance of forming a government.
But the victor may not be decided immediately. No party has ever won an outright majority in the 120-seat parliament, meaning days or even weeks of coalition negotiations lie ahead.