Israel election: Voting opens in referendum on Netanyahu leadership

Israel election: Voting opens in referendum on Netanyahu leadership

Israelis have begun voting in an unprecedented fourth election in two years that many see as a referendum on divisive longterm leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who called the vote a “festival of democracy” despite fears the results would once again be inconclusive prolonging the country’s political deadlock.

At least 6.5 million Israels are registered to vote but as polling stations opened across the country many citizens were bracing themselves for the spectre of a fifth extraordinary election because the last polls predicted no win for any side.

The final surveys released just a few days ago all indicated a tight and inconclusive race between the bloc that supports Mr Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving premier, and those who are against him. They suggest neither will reach the 61-seat majority needed to form a government.

Mr Netanayhu, who is currently standing trial on corruption charges he vehemently denies, was upbeat as he voted in Jerusalem on Tuesday morning calling the occasion a “festival of democracy” and urging others to “vote, vote, vote”.

He said he hoped that Tuesday was “the last election”.

Nearly 14,000 polling stations opened at 7am (5am GMT) across the country, several thousand more than previous elections to prevent crowding in the pandemic, Israeli media reported. More than 829,000 people in Israel have been infected with the virus since the pandemic hit Israel’s shores while over 6100 have died.

The authorities set up special shuttle services for those who are Covid-19 positive to ferry them to mobile voting booths, that have additional protective measures. Voters were even photographed casting their ballots from their hospital beds as medics in full Personal Protective Equipment lugged ballot boxes from ward to ward. Voting will close at 10pm (8pm GMT), when exit polls will likely point to voting trends rather than a clear winner because of the tight race.