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Israeli elections: Netanyahu’s Likud maintains lead as opposition parties continue to fragment

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It has been a whirlwind of a week in Israeli politics as the country’s election campaign moves full speed ahead following a call for snap elections this April.

Early prediction polls have put Netanyahu in the lead, with his right-wing Likud party expected to gain the most seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

According to Israeli news outlets, as many as 15 parties forming various coalitions could be throwing their hats in the ring come April 9th.

Israel’s Labor party has continued to fall in the polls, following a shocking announcement earlier this week by party leader Avi Gabbay dissolved his union with former foreign minister Tzipi Livni.

In another surprise move, Israel’s ultra nationalist Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked left their religious-zionist Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party to co-chair a new party, Hayamin Hehadash, or the “New Right.”

Ayelet Shaked (left) and Naftali Bennett (right)

Their new party will include members of Israel’s nationalistic secular and religious communities, and are marketing themselves as further right than Netanyahu’s Likud party.

The move has led to speculation that the two politicians would be aiming for more than just seats in the parliament, and have their sights set on the premiership.

Israel’s parliamentary system dictates that a government must win a majority of 61 out of 120 seats to rule, but since no singular party has ever obtained such a majority, parties form coalitions in order to consolidate power.

With as many small factions as there currently are, it is expected that new coalitions will form as the elections draw closer.

And while the current fragmentation of the opposition has strengthened Netanyahu’s prospects of reelection, the Prime Minister’s fate remains largely in the hands of Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who is currently deciding whether or not to indict Netanyahu mid-campaign.

Mandelblit is leading the ongoing investigations into Netanyahu over charges of corruption and bribery — one of the reasons that Netanyahu decided to call snap elections, in hopes he could secure a win before a possible indictment.

Israeli media reported last week that retired senior jurists held a meeting in which they told Mandelblit that it was his “public duty” to announce prior to April 9th whether he will indict Netanyahu or not.

Reports also stated that Mandelblit is hoping to announce his findings sometime in February.

In response, leading members of Netanyahu’s Likud party have threatened Mandelblit if he decides to go through with the indictment, saying it would be “harming the democratic process” and would unfairly tip the scales leading up to the elections.

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