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Israel Votes In General Election To End Political Crisis, Ex-PM Benjamin Netanyahu Aims For Comeback

This is the fifth general election in Israel in four years, which is locked in a political stalemate as no stable coalition has been formed lately in absence of any party winning majority.

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Israel is voting in a general election on Tuesday with which the country hopes to break its political stalemate. 

It's the fifth election in less than four years because no single party has won majority and political coalitions have not been stable. 

Voting will conclude on Tuesday evening and results are expected by Wednesday, but government formation could drag on for weeks. The contest is expected to be close and it's believed that coalition negotiations would delay government formation. 

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamind Netanyahu is also looking to make a comeback in the elections. He was ousted as the prime minister last year after his opponents cobbled a coalition and secured parliamentary majority.

Fast facts on Israel general elections

Polling booths opened at 7 am local time. 

Polls will close at 10 pm but official results are not expected until Wednesday. 

The process of forming the government could drag on for weeks.     

About 6.78 million eligible Israeli citizens will elect their 25th Israeli Parliament.

Opinion polls predict an incredibly close race with mostly predicting another stalemate, but some giving an edge to the right-wing formation led by Netanyahu.

Israel looks to avoid another election

Israel has been a political crisis for last few years as leaders have struggled to make and sustain coalitions. 

In the current election as well, it's not expected that any single party would get 61 seats in the 120-seat parliament. 

The main contest is between Netanyahu and the current caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid. 

Lapid has billed himself as a voice of decency and unity. He hopes his brief term as head of a caretaker government has shown voters that someone besides Netanyahu can lead the country. 

Netanyahu is asking voters to give him another chance, even as he stands trial on corruption charges.

Neither Netanyahu's hard-line Likud party nor Lapid's centrist Yesh Atid is expected to capture enough seats in parliament to form a new government. Instead, each hopes to secure the required 61-seat majority in the parliament with the support of smaller political allies. 

If neither succeeds, Israel could soon be facing another election. 

Benjamin Netanyahu question in Israeli election

The prospect of the next government seems to be largely hinging on two factors – the level of right-wing polarisation, not necessarily in favour of Netanyahu but for him to lead the coalition, and the extent of voter apathy, surprisingly, in the Arab sector.

Netanyahu, 73, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister and among one of the most polarising ones whose leadership plagued by charges of graft has been at the centre of current instability, is facing a battle of political survival. He has so far enjoyed the unflinching loyalty of his Likud party and other right-wing parties that have firmly stood behind him.

There were times when the bloc led by Netanyahu came tantalisingly close to the magical 61 number in the 120-member Knesset, falling short by just one member. His main rival, Lapid, is looking for a strong show for his Yesh Atid party that could help him mobilise those political formations opposed to a Netanyahu comeback.

Yair Lapid's unlikely coalition

Lapid last time managed to cobble a government bringing in strange bedfellows together, including parties from Left, right and Centre backed for the first time with the support of even an Arab party in an experiment that many saw as historical. But it failed to be a lasting solution to the ongoing political crisis.

Bennett and Lapid in a joint statement in June said that they had "exhausted options to stabilise" their coalition which has recently come under severe strain over unruly members threatening to dump it.

The preceeding few months had been tense for the Israeli government, with government being reduced to a minority after two members of Bennet's own party quit and a key governing partner suspended cooperation. This political instability also coincided with a wave of Palestinian attacks inside Israel in which at least 18 Israelis have been killed by June. Violent clashes were also witnessed at the Al Aqsa mosque between Israeli security personnel and Palestinians. 

Potential power brokers

The far right “Religious Zionism” party has been the story of this campaign. Led by openly anti-Arab and homophobic politicians, the party has burst out of the extremist fringes of Israeli politics and is poised to emerge as one of the largest factions in parliament.

It is a strong ally of Netanyahu, and its leaders will expect a generous payout if they propel him to victory. In return, they have indicated they will try to erase the charges against him.

On the other side, Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who leads a small, centre-right party, could be critical for a Lapid victory. If Gantz can siphon votes away from Netanyahu, he could prevent the former prime minister from his hoped-for majority. Gantz also has good relations with Netanyahu's religious allies and could potentially bring them over to Lapid's side.

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That could make him a powerful player in coalition negotiations - and even position him to be a future prime minister.

Expect the unexpected

During Lapid's brief four-month term, Israel has fought a three-day battle against Gaza militants, stepped up arrest raids in the occupied West Bank and reached a diplomatic agreement with Lebanon over a maritime border between the enemy countries. An unexpected bout of violence or surprising diplomatic breakthrough could all potentially sway voters at the last moment.

(With AP inputs)

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