Israelis headed to polling stations on Tuesday to vote in the country’s general elections, in what is being seen as the toughest challenge in years for current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The emergence of popular former army chief Benny Gantz on the political scene, coupled with a string of corruption scandals resulted in a difficult election campaign for Netanyahu.
“With God’s help the state of Israel will win,” Netanyahu said as he cast his vote together with his wife Sara in Jerusalem.
“There are many people, who want us to continue this fantastic journey which brought Israel to its best decade in history and we have so much more to do,” Netanyahu said afterwards, as he urged Israelis to vote for his right-wing Likud party.
His main rival Gantz cast his vote in his hometown Rosh Haayin and said: “This is a day of hope.
A day of unity. I am looking the people of Israel in the eyes and telling them – this change is possible.”
“I offer myself as Israel’s prime minister and together, we will take this new path. I call out to all of you – let’s respect democracy and go vote,” Gantz added.
The tight race materialised after Gantz teamed up with lawmaker Yair Lapid to form the new centrist Blue and White party, which has had a slight edge in most polls over Netanyahu’s Likud.
However, polls have shown that most Israelis believe Netanyahu will be the one to form the next coalition.
This is partly because the right-wing bloc of parties is expected to be larger in the Knesset than the centre-left bloc, handing Netanyahu the mandate to retain the premiership.
Of a handful of voters who spoke to dpa at a polling station in the liberal city of Tel Aviv, the majority said they were voting Blue and White. “Only Blue and White!” one woman shouted on her way to vote.
Adi Grinberg said she was hoping for a revolution and, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname, said: “Bibi has to go.
“If I know something isn’t good then we need to see something different. Maybe the something else will be worse – I don’t know – but we have to at least give a chance for change, improvement and a better life,” Grinberg said.
“I just want to try to bring Bibi down,” said Danielle, who declined to give her surname, but neither Danielle nor Grinberg had high expectations of that happening.
“I think Bibi will win again and the country … will only continue to deteriorate,” Grinberg predicted.
Yaarit, who withheld her surname, said she was resigned to a Netanyahu victory and thus, opted for Kulanu, a smaller centre-right party.
The party focuses on socio-economic issues with a platform which seeks to reduce the cost of living and
reduce social gaps.
“Nothing will change,” Yaarit stated.
Some 6.3 million people are eligible to vote, with some 40 parties on the ballot. (dpa/NAN)