10/10/2012, 00.00
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Netanyahu calls early elections to ensure Israel's security and stability

Poll is moved up from October to January 2013 after cabinet fails to reach a budget agreement with the ultra-Orthodox camp rejecting cuts to welfare and benefits. The outgoing PM is betting on his personal appeal to increase Knesset seats. It is still not clear whether Olmert will run or not; he is seen by many as the only one who could fill the leadership vacuum in the centre-left bloc.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Israel must go to the poll "as soon as possible" to ensure the country's stability, and enable the government to respond appropriately to its many security and economic challenges, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, as he announced early elections. The premier has not yet set the date, but he will probably bring it forward to January from October next year.

The 120-member Knesset is due to convene for its winter session on Monday and dissolve itself within days, at which point the vote date will be set.

The current Likud-led rightwing administration has been in power since 2009. In the past three years, it has had to face many issues that have remained unsolved like the peace process with the Palestinians and the verbal nuclear standoff with Iran.

The governing coalition fell on an economic matter, the annual budget. The cabinet failed to adopt the proposed budget for next year, which included cuts, because of opposition from small religious parties to cuts to welfare programmes and government benefits.

Mr Netanyahu said he decided to pull the date forward because bickering among his coalition partners had made it impossible to pass a "responsible budget" for 2013.

With Mr Netanyahu's high personal approval ratings, his Likud party is expected to improve on the 27 Knesset seats it took in the last election. However, even if he wins he will almost certainly have to form another coalition, given the proportional nature of Israel's voting system.

Meanwhile, Israeli analysts and observers are waiting to see whether former Prime Minister Ehud Elmer will run or not. For many, the former Jerusalem mayor and Kadima leader remains Netanyahu's main rival.  His decision should come in the next few days.

Netanyahu's announcement of early elections appears geared toward ensuring he remains in power. His rivals are weak and insignificant, and have not presented an alternative to his policies.

Instead of reaching the elections with a weak government, without a budget and paralysed, Netanyahu chose to bring the elections forwards, a wise and timely decision according to the rightwing press.


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