Netanyahu urges voters to back Likud-Beiteinu in polls
Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, attempting to stem his ruling party’s steady decline in the polls, used the last day of campaigning ahead of today’s election to urge voters to “come back home”.
“I have no doubt that many, many people will decide at the last minute to come home to Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu. And at the last minute, I appeal to each and every citizen going to the ballot box: ‘Decide for whom you are going to vote – for a divided and weak Israel or for a united and strong Israel and a large governing party?’.”
He also said preventing Iran developing nuclear weapons would remain his priority, and that history would not forgive those who did not stop Iran’s nuclear programme.
With polls showing an unprecedented 15 per cent of voters still undecided – representing 18 seats in the 120-seat Knesset parliament – there was no let-up in the campaigning yesterday.
Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party, which is running on a joint list with the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu, has lost about 10 votes during the campaign to both the far-right and the centre.
Two fresh and charismatic personalities on the Israeli political map – Naftali Bennett (40), head of the far-right Jewish Home; and former television anchor Yair Lapid (49), head of the centrist There is a Future – have succeeded in wooing away traditional Likud supporters.
Both parties are likely to be members of the next government coalition, which is almost certain to be headed, once again, by Mr Netanyahu. However, Mr Lapid has stated that he will not become a “fig leaf” for an extremist right-wing, religious government, meaning Mr Netanyahu would need to persuade at least one other centrist party to join the coalition.
President Shimon Peres will chose the leader of one of the parties to form the next government after hearing recommendations from the heads of all the parties who win seats to the Knesset in today’s vote. The new government is likely to be sworn in some time in March.
Voter participation in elections has steadily dropped since Israel won independence in 1948.
Turnout is particularly low among Israeli Arabs, who make up 20 per cent of the population – just over 50 per cent, compared to the national average of 65 per cent – prompting the Arab League in Cairo to issue a statement calling on Israeli Arabs to vote.
“The extreme right in Israel is trying to pass laws that harm the Arab community, to racially and ethnically cleanse the Arab population. The racist, extremist right does not want peace. In light of these facts, we call on all Arabs to boost their numbers at the polls and strengthen their representation.”
Today's poll: Final predictions of result
* Likud-Beiteinu: 32
A merger of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, led by former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman.
* Labour: 17
Centrist party led by new leader Shelly Yachimovich focused on social issues, sidelining peace platform.
* Jewish Home(Habayit Hayehudi): 14
Far-right party led by charismatic Naftali Bennett, the surprise of the campaign.
* Shas: 12
Ultra-Orthodox party appealing to Sephardic Jews.
* There is a Future (Yesh Atid): 12
New centrist party led by popular former TV presenter Yair Lapid.
* The Movement (Hatnua): 8
New centrist party formed by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, emphasis on peace with the Palestinians.
* Meretz: 6
Left-wing party, surged in the polls in the past few weeks.
* United Torah Judaism: 5
* Hadash: 5
Mixed Arab-Jewish list.
* Balad: 4
* Raam-Taal: 3
* Kadima: 2
Led by former defence minister Shaul Mofaz. Plummeted from 28 seats in current Knesset.
Source: Ha’aretz newspaper