Israel is set to hold an unprecedented third general election in less than a year, after the deadline to form a government expired and politicians failed again to form a majority coalition in parliament. The country has been gripped by political paralysis after inconclusive votes gave neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his main rival, Benny Gantz, a clear lead.
In September, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party won just 32 seats in the 120-member Knesset, while Gantz’s centrist Blue and White alliance scored 33 seats. The two leaders were unable to form a coalition that could command a 61-seat majority, nor to agree on a power-sharing arrangement. By law, the poll cannot be held for three months, extending the political deadlock deep into next year. As a result, lawmakers voted to set the election date for the 2nd March 2020, just hours after the prohibition period (10:00 pm GMT).
This decision is seen as a boon for Netanyahu who had feared a deal by the opposition which would end his decade-long run in power. However, the legal problems of the Likud party’s leader were a big obstacle to negotiations. Netanyahu was indicted on bribery, fraud and corruption charges last month and Mr Gantz asked him not to seek parliamentary immunity from prosecution as a precondition for further talks. Netanyahu is largely expected to win, although recent polling suggests his popularity may have taken a hit.
Israeli elections may further divide the nation
The forthcoming elections are expected to cost hundreds of millions of euros and many fear bitter campaigns than those seen earlier this year. Given the divisions in the Israeli society and the deep mistrust between the opposing camps, there appears to be little hope (if any) that another vote will break the loop of elections and instability.
Former Interior Minister Gideon Saar tweeted: “There is a national need for a breakthrough that will end the ongoing political crisis, enable the formation of a strong government, and to unite the people of Israel.” Furthermore, the political stalemate has played out during a fraught time for Israel. While politicians have bickered and traded blame, the country has been fighting Gazan militants since March 2019. Meanwhile, the tension is mounting between the Hebrew State and Iran, Israel’s arch-enemy and a regional powerhouse.