Israel to hold March 2 election, its third in less than a year
JERUSALEM – Israel will hold an election on March 2, its third in less than a year, parliament decided on Thursday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival failed to parlay the previous two ballots into a new coalition government.
By a vote of 94 in favour to none opposed, lawmakers approved a motion dissolving parliament and setting the new election date. It came hours after a final deadline passed to form a government following the last election in September.
In that ballot, and in the one prior in April, Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party deadlocked with ex-general Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White. Neither managed to muster enough support in the 120-seat Knesset for a stable coalition.
The next election, however, will be held in the shadow of a corruption indictment handed down against Netanyahu last month.
Denying any wrongdoing, Netanyahu, 70, has accused legal authorities of attempting a “coup” aimed at ousting a popular four-term leader. Critics alleged that Netanyahu was trying to undermine the rule of law and set an election campaign theme portraying himself as the victim of “deep state” conspiracy.
As prime minister, Netanyahu is under no legal obligation to resign as a result of the indictment, and while in office he can ask the legislature to grant him immunity from prosecution.
As caretaker premier, Netanyahu would remain in the post until a new government is formed – a process that could stretch months past the March election if what is likely to be a tortuous new round of coalition-building is taken into account.
Under Israeli law, a sitting prime minister charged with a crime is not required to step down. But Netanyahu’s opponents argue he cannot guide the country through its myriad challenges while fighting his legal battles.
“The suicidal tailspin on the political system this past year originated with one person: Benjamin Netanyahu,” wrote columnist Yossi Verter in the liberal Haaretz.
“This election campaign, like its two predecessors in April and September, is the result of his ongoing escape from a trial that is likely to end in prison,” Verter said.
(AW and agencies)