Israel's prime minister narrowly wins his third election in less than a year
- Israel's sitting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is projected to win his third election in under a year.
- Exit polls indicate that the 70-year-old conservative Likud Party chair has secured a narrow lead against challenger Benny Gantz, the former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces and leader of the moderate Blue and White Party.
- But it's unclear if Netanyahu will be able to form a coalition government, as he has failed to do so twice in the past.
- Netanyahu has been formally indicted in three separate criminal cases and his trial is set to begin on March 17.
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Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defied expectations once more, narrowly winning his third election in less than a year despite an impending criminal trial.
The 70-year-old conservative Likud Party chair has secured a narrow lead against challenger Benny Gantz, the former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces and leader of the moderate Blue and White Party. Netanyahu has faced Gantz in the three elections within the last year: first in April 2019, again in September 2019, and most recently on March 2, 2020.
Israel's perpetual election cycle has to due with the way the country's democracy operates.
While elections usually happen every four years, the country's parliamentary system makes it difficult for elected officials to maintain a governing coalition long enough to last an election cycle. In 2018, Netanyahu's government dissolved over clashes with his coalition partners, and early elections were called for April 2019.
This cycle, voters chose from a list of 29 parties to serve in the 120-seat parliament, known as the Knesset.
The electoral threshold is 3.25%, which means a party needs to pass that threshold - equivalent to four Knesset seats - of the overall vote in order to gain representation.
It is rare for any one party to win an outright majority. Ultimately it will be up to President Reuven Rivlin to select the prime minister based on which party has the best chance of forming a coalition. Rivlin will consult with leaders of parties that won Knesset seats about their preference for prime minister. After the president makes his selection, the chosen candidate has 42 days to form a coalition government through vigorous, often tense, negotiations with smaller parties.
If the selected leader can't form a coalition, another candidate will be given a chance.
In this round, exit polls indicate that Likud is projected to win around 37 Knesset seats, while rival Blue and White is projected to win about between 33 and 34 seats, securing Netanyahu's narrow win.
- Still, experts and politicians remain skeptical that either candidate will be successful in forming a coalition government, and there are preemptive concerns that Israel may be headed to a fourth election.
Rivlin on Monday said the country should be deeply ashamed to hold an election for the third time in less than a year.
"We simply don't deserve this," he said. "We don't deserve another horrible election campaign that descends into filth, like the one that ends today."
Meanwhile, Netanyahu was already celebrating his win on Monday, saying that his campaign was able to tun "lemons to lemonade."
It's unclear if Netanyahu will be able to form a coalition before his trial is set to begin on March 17. Netanyahu has been formally indicted in three separate criminal cases for charges relating to bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.
Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, said that Israel is headed into an extraordinary situation where Netanyahu - officially the country's longest-serving prime minister in history - will be in charge of the justice system he has become so tangled in.
"Israelis voiced their support for the man they perceive [as] bringing them security and prosperity," Plesner said. "At the same time, the country is heading towards constitutional uncertainty. On March 17, the Prime Minister's trial will begin and the country will find itself in the unprecedented situation in which the man in charge of institutions of law and order will begin his fight to clear his name in court."
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