Middle East

Israel PM, rightwing bloc set for easy victory: polls

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces early elections during a press conference at his Jerusalem office on October 9, 2012. Netanyahu called an early election, telling a Jerusalem press conference it should be held "as fast as possible. AFP PHOTO/GALI TIBBON

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the rightwing-religious bloc is set for an easy victory in a snap election due early next year, according to two opinion polls published on Thursday.

Netanyahu and the rightwing and ultra-Orthodox parties allied with him stand to increase their parliamentary majority to 68 in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel's parliament, according to one poll published in Haaretz newspaper.

The existing coalition, which includes the centrist Independence party led by Defence Minister Ehud Barak, currently has a majority of 66.

The poll found opposition centrist, leftwing and Arab parties would win just 52 seats, meaning Netanyahu would easily be able to form a rightwing coalition and remain in control of the Knesset.

Another poll published in Maariv newspaper also put Netanyahu and his rightwing allies far ahead of the opposition, saying he would hold on to the 66 seats he currently commands.

Netanyahu's personal popularity is also on the rise, according to the Haaretz poll, which found 45 percent of respondents were satisfied with the premier's performance, up from 38 percent in the previous poll at the end of September.

The results also showed Netanyahu's closest contender would be Tzipi Livni, former head of the opposition Kadima party, who lost a primary poll earlier this year to Shaul Mofaz and has since left politics.

Some 28 percent of respondents said they would support her, while another 24 percent said they would vote for former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who also led Kadima but stepped down from politics in 2008 over corruption allegations which have largely been resolved.

In third place was Labour leader Shelly Yachimovich with 17 percent, followed by Mofaz with 16 percent and Barak with 15 percent.

Netanyahu on Tuesday announced he would bring forward elections that had been scheduled for October 2013.

He said the decision was driven by the current deadlock among coalition partners over the passage of a budget packed with austerity measures.

A final date for the elections is expected to be set next week, with observers predicting the election will fall somewhere between mid-January and mid-February.





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