Israel begins voting again in 4th national election in 2 years

March 23 (UPI) — Israelis went to the polls again on Tuesday to vote in the fourth national elections in less than two years.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is again hoping to hold onto power after the previous three elections failed to produce a lasting coalition government. He faces his main challenge from opposition Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz.

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Netanyahu’s Likud Party is expected to win about 30 seats in the 120-member Israeli Knesset, more than any other party. Early voter turnout on Tuesday was about 25%.

Gantz’s party is expected to win enough seats to get into Israeli Parliament, but he has lost some support over the last several months after he agreed to serve as Netanyahu’s defense minister.

The previous governing coalition produced by Netanyahu and Gantz after the third election last year fell apart in December, setting the stage for Tuesday’s election. The first two failed to produce a power-sharing alliance at all.

Government officials said COVID-19 safety protocols are in effect at all polling locations and voters can feel safe in casting their ballot.

Observers say Netanyahu is counting on his response to the coronavirus pandemic to help him win more support this time around. Israel leads the world in vaccinations, with 58% of Israelis having received at least one dose and 52% both doses.

“We have had a year of sacrifice, unity, and now we are leaving this coronavirus in the past together,” Netanyahu said in a report by Haaretz.

Yesh Atid Party head Yair Lapid on Tuesday urged voters to the polls.

“We need your vote to make Yesh Atid a big powerful force for change,” Lapid said, according to the Jerusalem Post. “For a big change, you need a big party. [The party has a] chance to restore sanity to Israel [and] a government that will fight corruption.”

President Reuven Rivlin also called on Israelis to turn out.

“I’m voting for the last time as president, but above all as a worried citizen — a very worried citizen,” Rivlin told the Jerusalem Post.

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