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Will world-beating vaccine rollout save Benjamin Netanyahu from election defeat?

Israelis casting votes for fourth time in two years

Israelis are heading to the ballot box today as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeks re-election while riding high on the success of the country’s Covid vaccination campaign.

Latest polling gives Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party a slight lead as citizens cast their ballots in the fourth election in two years. But the latest vote “is unlikely to provide the country with much-needed stability and its outcome remains unpredictable”, Al Jazeera reports.

After more than a decade in power, Netanyahu will be hoping that Israel’s world-beating vaccine rollout will sway the vote in his favour. But pundits predict that he would still need to unite right-wing and ultra-orthodox allies in order to form a government.

Shot in the arm

Opinion polls in the run-up to the election suggest that the “majority of Israelis don’t want Netanyahu to remain as prime minister” and that “an even larger majority want to remove the ultra-orthodox parties from the government”, Haaretz reports.

Netanyahu has been dogged by controversy after becoming the first Israeli PM to be charged with a crime while in office. The long-serving leader was indicted in 2019 on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, and has since been accused of exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to delay the trial.

On the other hand, his government has been boosted by the speedy rollout of Covid vaccines. A total of 9.78 million doses have been administered to Israel’s population of just over nine million people to date, according to latest Oxford University tracking.

Netanyahu has been highlighting the success of the jab programme in the run-up to polling day, tweeting recently that “Israel is world champion in vaccination”.

Al Jazeera agrees that “the country has indeed made a name for itself with its citizens’ rapid and widespread vaccination”.

But the success of the government’s pandemic response “is not as straightforward as it now appears”, the broadcaster adds. Israel struggled to control the virus last year, and in September became the first country in the world to enter a second national lockdown.

So while Netanyahu “hopes that grateful Israelis will flock to the election booths to back Likud”, he may need extra support to hold on to power, says The Telegraph.

Crowded field

Despite his poor public approval ratings, the “most likely result in the upcoming election is that Netanyahu will remain in office and the ultra-orthodox parties will be stronger than ever”, according to Haaretz.

Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, is made up of “between eight and 12 parties, each with differing loyalties and competing agendas”, says The Times of Israel. And Netanyahu’s route to power relies on “trying to carve a majority coalition out of it”.

The Telegraph reports that he “is projected to fall short of the 61 seats needed in the Knesset”, leaving him in need of “support from right-wing rivals and ultra-orthodox parties to clear the threshold” required to govern.

Haaretz suggests that “the key” to unlocking a governing coalition relies on “one small yet significant group of voters” - those who back former Netanyahu protege Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party.

Two other parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, have already pledged their allegiance to Netanyahu in writing, so he “very nearly has his victorious right-religious coalition”, says The Times of Israel. 

And “Bennett will be hard-pressed to refuse to join the right-religious coalition if his Yamina party clinches a majority of seats” in today’s vote, the paper adds.

But while parliamentary arithmetic could clinch Netanyahu another term in office, major challenges lie ahead. 

Whoever comes out on top will struggle to provide the “necessary stability” to “maintain and work within a coalition” that can also “deliver for the Israeli people amid an economic situation that still yields more questions than answers”, Al Jazeera warns.

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