Israelis gear up for an electioneering summer

By Ben Hartman, May 3, 2012
Defence Minister Ehud Barak launched his party campaign this week

Defence Minister Ehud Barak launched his party campaign this week

Early elections could be on the way for Israel with some forecasts predicting elections as early as the end of the summer.

Elections were originally scheduled for October 2013, but talk of early elections began last week when sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began leaking to the press the possibility of an imminent poll.

Early elections would favour Mr Netanyahu, who remains popular at the moment and would help him shore up support for his party ahead of difficult decisions in the coming months, including a government decision on whether or not to renew the Tal law after it expires on August 1.

Reports in the Israeli press suggest that Mr Netanyahu has told members of his inner circle that he would favour holding elections on August 14 or September 4. He is thought likely to make an announcement after he finishes shivah for his father, Benzion.

The Tal law exempts strictly Orthodox yeshivah students from mandatory military service, but it was declared unconstitutional in February. A vote on the issue could drive either Mr Netanyahu's Charedi coalition partners, or the secular opponents from the Yisrael Beitenu Party, to leave the government, depending on the decision made regarding the law.

Bibi is said to favour an Aug 14 or Sep 4 polling day

Although no election date has been set, the parties have already hit the campaign trail, to all intents and purposes. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Yisrael Beitenu, said on Monday that holding elections as soon as possible was in the interest of the state and that his party preferred elections in mid-July.

Labour Party chair Shelly Yachimovich said her party was the only alternative to the Netanyahu-led government and has begun preparing for elections, while Opposition leader Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) said he would support early elections.

But an early date could hamper the ability of TV star and journalist Yair Lapid to raise money for the party he founded in April, although it could equally help him capitalise on the high level of support he currently has in the polls.

A poll released by Yediot Aharonot this week predicted that if elections were held today, Likud would win 30 seats, three more than in the last election. The poll also found that the Labour Party would win 18 seats, Yisrael Beitenu 13, Kadima 11, Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid (There is a Future) Party 11, and Shas seven seats. Altogether the poll predicted a slim 61-seat majority for the right-wing.

Early elections could affect the social justice protests expected to return this summer. While last year's protests, by and large, tried to be non-partisan, this summer's are predicted to be much more politically slanted.

Last updated: 1:02pm, May 3 2012