JERUSALEM, Israel (AFP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday called an early general election, saying it should be held “as quickly as possible” in a bid to avoid damaging the Jewish state’s flagging economy.
“My duty as prime minister is to put the national interest before everything, and so I’ve decided that for the good of Israel, we must go to an election now as fast as possible,” he told a press conference, broadcast live on Israel’s main television and radio stations.
“For the state of Israel, it is preferable to have a short election period of three months than a long election campaign which would last a whole year, and hurt Israel’s economy,” Netanyahu said.
Elections for Israel’s 19th parliament had been due to take place in October 2013 but the Israeli leader moved to bring forward the date after failing to garner the support of coalition partners for an unpopular austerity budget which must be passed by the end of this year.
Although he did not set a date for the election, Israeli press reports suggested it would be in late-January or mid-February.
“I finished my talks with party leaders in the coalition and I reached the conclusion that at this time, it is not possible to pass a responsible budget,” he said.
“We are facing an election year and unfortunately, in an election year, it is difficult for parties to put the national interest over party interests,” he said.
Israel’s Knesset, which reconvenes for its winter session on October 15, is likely to be dissolved at some point next week.
Netanyahu’s announcement ends weeks of speculation about whether he would bring forward the election in a bid to bolster his position and capitalise on his popularity.
Recent polls indicate Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party, is well placed to stay in power, although his ratings hit a low point earlier this year after he pushed through an initial series of austerity measures in order to plug a shortfall in the budget.
His coalition of right-wing, nationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties currently holds 66 of the 120 seats in parliament.
There was a brief flurry of election fever earlier this year after Netanyahu said in May that he would seek an early vote in September.
But as parliament was voting on whether to dissolve itself, he backtracked and made an 11thhour deal to bring the opposition Kadima party into his ruling coalition, giving him a cast-iron majority of 94 seats.
That political marriage collapsed just 70 days later, with Kadima head Shaul Mofaz pulling out over what he said were irreconcilable differences over plans to change the law on universal conscription.