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Israelis vote for Parliament, Netayahu’s fate in balance

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Jerusalem: Israelis began voting today in a general election following a high-pitched campaign that has turned into a referendum on the six-year rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeking a record fourth term.

Voters started to line up in queues at 7 AM when the booths opened. Ballots are for political parties rather than individual candidates.

Israel has a proportional representation system, meaning a coalition government is likely to be formed within its 120-seat Knesset, or parliament. Election is being held for all the 120 seats. In the current Parliament Netanyahu’s Likud Party has 18 seats.

About 5.88 million voters are eligible to vote and are casting their ballot across the over 10,000 voting stations.

According to reports, 13.7 per cent of voters cast ballots by 10 AM, over 20 per cent higher than voter turnout in previous two elections.

A high voter turnout is expected this time after general turnout in polls have been on the decline since 1999 till when it used to be close to 80 per cent.

65-year-old Netanyahu, nicknamed Bibi, yesterday said there would be no Palestinian state if he were re-elected, in a last-ditch effort to woo rightwing voters.

The hawkish prime minister, who led a fragile five party coalition government in this third term after winning polls in January 2013, called for early elections last year after his alliance splintered.

Netanyahu had about three years left in office when he called for elections with a hope to secure a record fourth term and improve the tally of his right-wing Likud party. However, the recent opinion polls have shown his party trailing the centrist Zionist Union by about four seats.

His main rival, 54-year-old Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog was ahead in the opinion polls on a campaign that promised to repair ties with the Palestinians and the international community and also deal with middle class issues such as price rise.

This time four Arab parties are fighting under one banner for the first time and they could become a factor in the post poll coalition-building.

The election results will assume significance given the high inflation, instability in the strategic region and Israel’s public image following Netanyahu’s challenge to US President Barack Obama over Iranian nuclear issue.

The Israeli Premier has been constantly at loggerheads with President Obama and his recent efforts to undermine the US leader by addressing the Congress without coordinating with the White House has widened the rift.

Netanyahu came to power for the first time in 1996 and held the premiership until his crushing defeat in the 1999 election. He achieved a political comeback in 2009 and has been the premier ever since.

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