Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu is aiming for a return to power as the country holds its fifth election in four years on Tuesday, his chances likely boosted by the rise of the far right.
The longest-serving leader in Israeli history, the 73-year-old right-wing military leader and security hawk for the first time in years of campaigning from the opposition.
He is up against Prime Minister Yair Lapid, the centrist caretaker, who last year orchestrated a coalition of eight parties into a coalition aimed at ousting Mr. Netanyahu from power.
Mr Lapid set off for the November 1 election just days after a diplomatic breakthrough – completing a landmark maritime border deal with rival Lebanon, opening up his wealth in foreign gas. open to both sides.
Meanwhile, Mr. Netanyahu hopes his 15-year record in power can convince voters that only he has the necessary experience to lead the country, despite the ongoing corruption trial.
Polls show Netanyahu’s Likud emerging as the biggest party in parliament, the Knesset – but in a political system dominated by coalitions, his path to prime ministership is far from sure.
Even with votes still being counted, both leaders are likely to engage in intense negotiations with smaller parties as they seek to secure the 61 seats needed for a parliamentary majority.
For Mr. Netanyahu, that means rekindling his longstanding ties to ultra-Orthodox, while he has also courted the far-right alliance of Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.
The duo’s Alliance for Religious Revivalism is soaring in the polls and could take third place, more than double its current six seats.
Far-right support could serve as Netanyahu’s ticket back to high office, a move that could happen in exchange for giving Ben-Gvir significant power.
‘Crisis of confidence’
With Lapid’s Yesh Atid party behind Likud in the polls, one of his aides said he “wants to make sure that Netanyahu doesn’t win these 61 (seats) with his allies”.
Such a strategy means both persuading the Israelis to turn against the Likud leader and ensuring that his potential allies win votes.
Under Israel’s electoral system, parties need to win at least four seats in order to participate in parliament.
“Lapid is trying to say that he is the only one who can rally the anti-Netanyahu members of the Knesset,” said Gayil Talshir, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“He has to make sure that his potential partners are over the threshold,” she added.
Many parties are leaning toward the four-seat threshold, especially all three previously Arab-led groups that oppose Mr.
Mansour Abbas, leader of the Raam party that became the first Arab party to join the ruling coalition last year, told AFP there was a “crisis of confidence with the Arab public”.
Arab-Israelis make up about 20% of the population, and if their turnout falls, as expected, Mr. Netanyahu’s bloc could win more seats.
Overall, Israel’s turnout is expected to remain relatively high, although voters are “absolutely tired” according to veteran pollster Dahlia Scheindlin.
As with the last four polls held since April 2019, the political crisis will not end with election day.
Coalition talks could take weeks, and if they fail, it’s likely voters will go to the polls again soon.
Ms Scheindlin said voters “haven’t changed their mind significantly over the past few cycles”, but their leadership positions could change.
“What’s different is the shape of the parties and possibly the decision of the party leaders, who will have to decide which coalition to form,” she said.
“That changes from election to election, it could change this time too.”
The outcome of this latest vote could have even bigger consequences for Mr. Netanyahu, who is fighting corruption allegations.
Securing the prime minister position could pave the way for Mr. Netanyahu to seek immunity from prosecution, with the backing of Religious Zionists who are vowing to overhaul the justice system.
According to Talshir, if he still objected, he could “negotiate a bargain”.
After the release of a memoir this month, she said, Mr. Netanyahu after decades on the political stage may be “preparing the ground for his departure”.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from an aggregated feed.)