Israel voted in its second election in five months yesterday that will decide whether to extend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s term as the country’s longest-serving prime minister despite corruption allegations against him.
The stakes could not be much higher for the 69-year-old right-wing leader who, as in April polls, faces a strong challenge from ex-military chief Benny Gantz and his centrist Blue and White alliance.
Netanyahu voted in Jerusalem alongside his wife Sara and said he expected a close election, urging Israelis to turn out in large numbers.
“President (Donald) Trump said yesterday that the elections will be tight,” Netanyahu said in reference to Monday’s comments calling the polls “50/50” by the US leader, who has been a strong supporter of the premier.
“I can guarantee you this morning that they are very tight.”
Gantz voted in his hometown of Rosh Haayin near Tel Aviv and called on the country to reject corruption and “extremism”.
“We want new hope. We are voting today for change,” Gantz said after voting with his wife Revital.
“We will succeed in bringing hope. We will succeed in bringing change, without corruption and without extremism, all together.”
Polls opened at 7:00 am (0400 GMT) and were due to close in most areas at 10:00 pm.
Some 6.4 million people are eligible to vote. The first exit surveys will be released just after polls close, while official results are not expected until today.
There were early signs that concerns over election fatigue may not materialise.
Turnout by 10:00 am was 15 percent, the highest by that time since 1984, according to the election committee.
Opinion polls have indicated another tight race, showing Netanyahu’s Likud and the Blue and White winning around 32 seats each in the 120-seat parliament.
Ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu’s former right-hand man turned rival, could play a kingmaker role with his campaign to “make Israel normal again.”