Netanyahu calls early general election in Israel next year


ISRAELI PRIME minister Binyamin Netanyahu has declared that the country’s general election will be brought forward to early next year.

Announcing the decision at a news conference in Jerusalem last night, Mr Netanyahu did not set a date but January 2013 looks the most likely option.

He said that after consultations with coalition parties he reached the conclusion that it would be impossible to agree on an austerity budget, and therefore “for the good of the country” elections must be held “as early as possible”.

The current government has served almost four years in office and the elections were scheduled to take place next October. Even though Israeli coalitions rarely survive for a full five-year term, bringing forward the vote does contain an element of risk.

Almost all Israeli prime ministers who have declared early elections have been defeated.

However, according to the polls, Mr Netanyahu is almost certain to be elected for a third term as prime minister. He is considered the most suitable candidate for the top job, with no serious rivals from within the right-wing camp. His Likud party is likely to be the largest party in the next Knesset parliament and all indications are that the bloc of right-wing and religious parties will gain in strength.

The main opposition party, the centrist Kadima, remains beset by internal divisions, leaving the resurgent Labour party, led by Shelly Yachimovich, a veteran campaigner on social issues, as the main threat to Mr Netanyahu.

Some new centre-left alliance, possibly involving former prime minister Ehud Olmert and former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, could emerge, but it is unlikely that such a grouping could win more support than the Likud.

Ms Yachimovich and the rest of the opposition will try to focus on economic issues. She said the election campaign really started six months ago and accused Mr Netanyahu of bringing forward the date in order to push through “harsh and cruel” cuts.

Even though the austerity budget was the catalyst for early elections, the possibility of a confrontation with Iran is likely to emerge as the key issue.

Mr Netanyahu, in his address to the United Nations general assembly last month, mentioned next spring or summer as a deadline for action to stop Iran’s nuclear programme, implying that if the world did not respond then Israel will act unilaterally.

If he succeeds in winning a third term and forming a coalition, Mr Netanyahu will be able to concentrate on Iran, largely to the exclusion of domestic concerns.