Today Israel is having an election, which was called last december by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
To the surprise of many, Netanyahu is “fighting for his political life” against once implausible challenger Isaac Herzog, states the publication Haaretz.
Ballots are being cast at 10,372 polling stations throughout Israel, and will remain open until 10 P.M. There are 5,881,696 Israelis (citizens over the age of 18) who are eligible to vote today for the 20th Knesset, states Haaretz.
Israel’s right-wing Likud and the center-left Zionist Union parties are neck and neck in the polls, and are getting the most votes, claims the news organization Al Jazeera.
Experts say the electoral campaigns reflect the country’s growing divisions towards Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governance.
Netanyahu’s Likud had for weeks been tied with the Zionist Union coalition at a projected 23 seats each.
A poll conducted one week before the elections by Israel’s Channel 2 claims that the Zionist Union will gain 25 seats to Likud’s 21.
The elections were announced when Netanyahu “sacked” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid over disagreements stemming from the controversial Jewish-state bill, a proposed law that defines Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people”.
During a recent visit to Jerusalem, where tensions have soared between Jewish Israelis and Palestinian residents since last summer, Netanyahu vowed to quash unrest and continue building Jewish-only settlements if he wins the elections.
“Unlike Tzipi Livni, who condemns our building in Jerusalem, and unlike [Zionist Union co-leader Isaac] Herzog, who will allow the establishment of a second terrorist state in Judea and Samaria, we will preserve a secure and united Jerusalem forever,” he proclaimed.
Israel has more than two parties with seats in Parliament.
The Jewish Home (Habayit Hayehudit), a right-wing Zionist party that supports unilaterally annexing large swaths of the occupied West Bank, is currently projected to gain 12 seats.
The Joint Arab List, a coalition of four Arab-majority parties, is expected to take 13 seats, as is Yesh Atid, the centrist party headed by former Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid.
During the 2013 elections, voter turnout was 67 percent, and pollsters predict that it will be similar this year.
“Israel traditionally has had a high voter turnout,” Dahlia Scheindlin, an independent pollster and writer at 972 Magazine, told Al Jazeera. “The last elections saw one of the higher turnouts in recent years, but it is not that high for Israel. From 1949 till 1999, turnout for national elections was an average of 80 percent.”
Some believe Netanyahu is still favored to win.
“Most Israelis see very little reason to change the incumbent. If he [Netanyahu] wins, and I expect he will, these are the last elections he will win. On the other side of the political map, that means that the Israeli centre-left and left are still nowhere near getting back on their feet,” says Dimi Reider, of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
MK Dov Lipman, a member of the Yesh Atid party, summed up the elections as “a referendum on Netanyahu”, adding that a large percentage of Israelis are still polling as undecided.