Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to face early polls in April with one-seat majority
Israeli police brought a third corruption case against the PM in late 2018. (Reuters: Baz Ratner)
Israel will hold an early general election in April, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, after members of his governing coalition met to discuss differences over legislation.
- Mr Netanyahu faces a third corruption probe while holding a one-seat majority
- Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman quit the government in November
- Attempts to conscript ultra-orthodox Jewish men led to the decision
“The leaders of the coalition decided unanimously to dissolve parliament and go to a new election in early April,” the spokesperson wrote on Twitter, quoting from a statement issued by Mr Netanyahu’s political partners.
A coalition crisis over a military conscription bill affecting exemptions from compulsory service for ultra-Orthodox Jewish men led to the decision.
Mr Netanyahu, now in his fourth term as prime minister, has been governing with a razor-thin majority of 61 seats in the 120-member parliament.
He heads the right-wing Likud party.
Under Israeli law, a national election had to be held by November 2019.
Mr Netanyahu’s government will remain in place until a new one is sworn in, after the April poll.
A series of corruption probes against Mr Netanyahu and pending decisions by Israel’s attorney general on whether to follow police recommendations to indict him had raised speculation he would opt to seek a public show of confidence at the ballot box.
The Prime Minister has denied any wrongdoing in the cases and has given no indication he will step down if charged.
Attempts to conscript ultra-Orthodox Jewish men led to the early poll decision. (Flickr: Prem Rose)
Netanyahu support hasn’t wavered with corruption charges
The 69-year-old Israeli leader made no immediate comment after his meeting with the coalition leaders.
Recent opinion polls have shown his popularity remains strong among Israelis.
The likelihood of an early election increased in November after Mr Netanyahu’s defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, quit the government, leaving the ruling coalition with its one-seat majority.
No one in Likud has made a public challenge against the Prime Minister, and the party is expected to close ranks around him in the coming election.
Outside Likud, Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid opposition party, is seen as the strongest candidate to succeed Mr Netanyahu in any upset.
Mr Lapid’s party is second to Likud in opinion polls.
Israel’s former army chief, Benny Gantz, is seen as a dovish potential candidate who could tip the balance in favour of a centre-left bloc, but has not yet thrown his hat in the ring.
On the right, Mr Lieberman and Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, could both seek to lead a right-wing bloc if Likud emerges in a weaker position in an election.
Mr Netanyahu first led Israel from 1996 to 1999, and returned in 2009.
His current government has been in power since May 2015.