Israelis vote for the fifth time in four years on Tuesday in an election in which former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comeback bid may depend on a far-right party.
Voter exasperation may hurt turnout, but surging support for the ultranationalist Religious Zionism bloc and firebrand co-leader Itamar Ben-Gvir has galvanized the race.
Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving premier, is on trial for corruption. The largest party in parliament is expected to be the rightist Likud party.
He was still short of the 61 seats needed for a majority in the Knesset, opening the possibility of weeks of coalition wrangling and possibly new elections.
A campaign triggered by outgoing centrist Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s decision to seek an early election due to defections from his ruling coalition has focused on security and surging prices.
The stalemate blocking Israel’s political system since Netanyahu was indicted has been caused by his legal battles, which have overshadowed policy disputes.
He now depends on Religious Zionism, a once-marginal group that is set to be the third-largest party, after he failed to gain a stable majority.
The rise of Ben-Gvir and fellow far-right leader Bezalel Smotrich has eaten into the traditional support of Netanyahu’s hawkish image.
Ben-Gvir was a member of Kach, a group about Israeli and U.S. issues. His record includes a conviction for racist incitement against Arabs and he announced on Sunday that he wanted to be police minister.
Although Ben-Gvir has moderated some earlier positions, the prospect of his joining the government risks alarming allies, including the United States, as Netanyahu told Israel’s Army Radio.
The record of the unlikely coalition formed after the last election that mixed right-wing, centrist, and, for the first time, an Arab party has been the focus of Lapid’s campaigning.
He points to diplomatic progress with Lebanon and Turkey, as well as a relatively restrained round of fighting with Palestinian militants in Gaza.