Re-election in Israel as Benjamin Netanyahu fails to form government

Updated: May 31, 2019, 10:33 IST | Agencies

Netanyahu asked for an additional two weeks time to form the government after failing to cobble up one together during the mandated 28 days period. The extended time period was to expire at midnight on Wednesday

Re-election in Israel as Benjamin Netanyahu fails to form government
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks to the press following a vote on a bill to dissolve the Knesset (Israeli parliament). Pic/AFP

Jerusalem: Israeli lawmakers Thursday voted to dissolve Parliament and hold fresh elections after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a coalition before a midnight deadline, becoming the first prime minister-designate in the country's history who was unable to form a government. In little more than six weeks since they were elected, Israeli lawmakers voted 74-45 in favour of dissolving the 21st Knesset (Israeli Parliament) and hold an unprecedented repeat general elections on September 17.

Netanyahu's remarkable victory in the April 9 polls securing him a record fifth term proved temporary in the face of a logjam between potential coalition partners over a military conscription bill governing exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students. Ahead of the vote - taken just after the Wednesday midnight deadline, Netanyahu told the Likud faction that he had not succeeded in reaching a compromise with nationalist Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman on the controversial haredi (ultra-Orthodox) conscription bill, and that he had also tried unsuccessfully to woo MKs from the opposition to join his government. Lieberman, a former defence minister, had made it a condition of allying with ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties that they adopt a law aimed at having ultra-Orthodox Jews serve in the military like their secular counterparts. The bill, which the Defense Ministry drafted under Liberman's leadership, sets rising annual targets for haredi conscription in the Israeli Defence Forces.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews studying in religious seminaries are currently exempt from mandatory military service, a practice many Israelis view as unfair. Lieberman told reporters just before the vote that Israel was going to the polls because of the "complete surrender of the Likud (ruling party) to the haredim (ultra-orthodox)". Without Yisrael Beitenu, Netanyahu could muster support of only 60 lawmakers in the 120 member house, falling short of a majority by just one. Netanyahu launched a diatribe against Lieberman whom he blamed for "dragging the country to unnecessary elections". "Liberman is now part of the left. He brings down right-wing governments. Don't believe him again. I will tell you about it tomorrow. Maybe I will tell you some things you don't know," the prime minister told reporters immediately after the Knesset voted to dissolve itself.

"We'll run a sharp, clear election campaign which will bring us victory. We'll win, we'll win and the public will win," he said. "The public in Israel made a clear decision. It decided that I will be Prime Minister, that the Likud will lead the government, a right-wing government," Netanyahu said. According to several political analysts, the impasse leading to the political crisis was borne out of personal ego clash between the two leaders and does not really have a sound ideological ground. Netanyahu and Lieberman's association in politics goes back some 31 years when the latter assisted the former during his tenure as the deputy foreign minister in an unofficial capacity.

The move by Netanyahu's ruling Likud party to dissolve the Knesset ensured that President Reuven Rivlin would not be able to call some other lawmaker to try to form a new government. Rivlin had asked Netanyahu to form the next government after 65 lawmakers, including five of Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party, submitted letters of support for him. Netanyahu asked for an additional two weeks time to form the government after failing to cobble up one together during the mandated 28 days period. The extended time period was to expire at midnight on Wednesday.

Likud party had won 35 seats in the April 9 elections and the right-wing parties had together won 65 seats in the 120 member Knesset, making everyone believe that a right wing government was inevitable and easy to form. Netanyahu declared victory and started coalition negotiations immediately after the results came out, but contrary to expectations, the jubilation in the right-wing bloc proved momentary with no resolution on the military conscription bill. He will now remain in power until September's vote. Netanyahu, who has been premier for a total of more than 13 years, faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in connection with three cases.

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