Israel heading for September poll, Netanyahu leads field (REUTERS) By Crispian Balmer JERSALEM, ISRAEL 05/03/12 3:47am EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - Israel is expected to hold early elections on September 4
after the ruling Likud party submitted a bill to dissolve parliament,
with opinion polls on Thursday giving Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu a clear lead.
Although a national vote was not due until 2013, tensions within
Netanyahu´s rightist coalition over domestic issues, such as military
draft for ultra-orthodox Jews, have convinced the prime minister to
push for a pre-emptive ballot.
Israeli officials have said electioneering would not affect their
stance on Iran´s nuclear program, but many analysts believe the
government would not carry out a long-threatened attack on the
Islamic republic in the run-up to a vote.
Netanyahu is marking a week of mourning following the death of his
father and is widely expected to agree on an election date when he
returns to official duties on Sunday.
"There is agreement among most of the factions in the coalition and
some of the factions in the opposition ... for the election to be
held on September 4," said Zeev Elkin, an influential member of the
Netanyahu´s Likud party.
"If the prime minister makes a decision on Sunday that we are going
for it, then we can do it very quickly," he told Israel Radio, adding
that he had already submitted a bill for the dissolution of the
Knesset, which will discuss it next week.
The last time an Israeli government completed a full four-year term
was when Menachem Begin led the country from 1977-1981. Many
politicians thought Netanyahu´s coalition, which bonds religious and
right-wing parties, would last the course.
However, Netanyahu looks eager to cash in on a raft of promising
polls and seek an election that should consolidate his grip on power,
with the country seemingly happy with his stewardship of the healthy
POPULAR PRIME MINISTER
An opinion poll in the Maariv daily on Thursday showed Netanyahu´s
Likud winning 31 seats in the 120-member parliament, a rise from its
current 27, with the centre-left Labour party taking 18, making it
the next biggest party in the legislature.
The poll showed centrist Kadima, which won most seats in the last
elections in 2009, dropping from 28 to just 11, the same as the
fledgling party of Yair Lapid, a popular television personality who
has recently turned to politics.
As head of the biggest party, Netanyahu would be called upon to form
a new administration, but he would need a number of partners to gain
a parliamentary majority, a typical situation in Israel which has
always been governed by coalitions.
Some secular politicians from across the political divide have
suggested that Netanyahu should form a government of national unity
and exclude the minority religious parties.
Such a move would enable Israel to hack away at some of the
controversial privileges handed out to the ultra-Orthodox community
over the past six decades, including rules making it easy for them to
skip mandatory military service.
Once parliament is dissolved, the current administration remains in
place and Netanyahu continues as prime minister until a new
government is formed and approved by the Knesset after the coming
Another poll in the left-leaning Haaretz daily published on Thursday
showed 48 percent of respondents thought Netanyahu was the most
suitable candidate for prime minister and that he would leave his
closest rivals trailing in his wake.
Labour´s Shelly Yachimovich was second, with 15 percent, and Shaul
Mofaz, who last month took over as the head of Kadima from Tzipi
Livni, trailed in third place with a meager six percent.
The same survey showed the majority of Israelis disapproved of tough
comments last week by former spy chief Yuval Diskin, who accused
Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak of forming a
belligerent, "messianic" duo unfit to tackle Iran.
The poll said 51 percent of respondents disagreed with Diskin, while
just 25 percent supported his comments.
Barak looks set to be a big loser in any early vote, with polls
showing his recently formed group, which splintered from the Labour
party, winning no seats in the next parliament.
(Reporting by Ori Lewis; editing by Jeffrey Heller) (© Thomson
Reuters 2012. 05/03/12)
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