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Israel set for unprecedented third general election in year on March 2

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looking to cling on to power despite being dogged with indictments

Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White party, and Yair Lapid attend a parliamentary vote for its dissolution and approval of a date for a third national election in less than a year, at the Knesset, or Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem December 11, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White party, and Yair Lapid attend a parliamentary vote for its dissolution and approval of a date for a third national election in less than a year, at the Knesset, or Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem December 11, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Israelis will return to the polls for the third time in under a year on March 2 as its two main parties failed to form a government before the Wednesday night deadline.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the right-wing Likud party, and his main rival Benny Gantz, head of the centrist Blue and White, were unable to break almost a year of political paralysis.

Parliament, called the Knesset, failed to agree on a politician who would win the support of at least 61 of its 120 members by the midnight Wednesday deadline.

That means the Knesset will now dissolve until March 2, when the next election is due to be held.

Mr Netanyahu, 70, has been clinging on to power as Israel’s Prime Minister since he became mired in corruption allegations that have hurt his popularity with voters.

He has called the allegations a political "witch hunt", but on this election campaign, he will be running on indictments of bribery, breach of trust and fraud in three cases, after he was charged for in November.

The Likud leader is also facing challenges within his own party and will probably have to face a leadership primary on December 26.

Although Mr Netanyahu is expected to win, the indictments will undoubtedly hurt his campaign to stay as prime minister.

Both men have tried to form a government individually and Wednesday’s deadline marked the end of a final 21-day period in which any politician could be nominated as prime minister, but no frontrunner emerged.

Israel had two inconclusive polls in April and in September.

The April election was tied, with both parties winning 35 seats. In the September election, Mr Gantz’s party edged it, winning 33 seats to Likud’s 32.

Hours before the Knesset was dissolved on Wednesday, Mr Gantz attacked Mr Netanyahu, saying he only wanted an election to seek immunity from prosecution.

Despite the charges, Mr Netanyahu is under no obligation to resign and when in office he can request immunity.

“It now seems that we will be going into a third election cycle today because of Netanyahu’s attempt to obtain immunity,” Mr Gantz said.

Mr Netanyahu, in his appeal to voters, has said that he is best placed to deal with Israel’s security threats in the region and often boasts of his close ties to US President Donald Trump.

Updated: December 12, 2019 05:40 AM

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