The Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday announced that new elections would be held on January 22, 2013. The decision came two days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israelis would be sent to the polls “as soon as possible.”

Netanyahu had preferred January 15, and Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich wanted January 29. So the Tuesday, January 22 date, was agreed as a compromise.

Polls show Netanyahu heading for a smooth reelection, with a likely range of options for building a new coalition. Netanyahu, who turns 63 on October 21, was prime minister from 1996-99, and regained the premiership in elections in February 2009. The next elections were due to be held in October 2013, but the prime minister brought them forward, blaming minor parties for staking out irresponsible positions in recent discussions over the state budget.

Asked in a Dialog/Haaretz poll Thursday who among the potential candidates would be best suited to lead the country, 57-62 percent of respondents said Netanyahu (depending on who he is up against). Ex-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni scored 28%, former prime minister Ehud Olmert 24%, Labor’s Yachimovich 17%, current opposition Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz 16%, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak 15%.

Olmert is reportedly waiting to see how polls position him before deciding whether to make a return, having resigned as prime minister to fight corruption charges almost four years ago — setting in motion the process that brought Netanyahu to power.

The Haaretz survey projected that Netanyahu’s Likud party would win 29 Knesset seats. The Labor party would win 19 seats, Yisrael Beytenu 15, Yair Lapid’s new Yesh Atid 11, Shas 10, Jewish Home (HaBayit HaYehudi) 8 seats, Kadima 7, United Torah Judaism 6, Meretz 4, Hadash 4, the Arab Ram-Tal party 5, and Balad 2.

A likely center-right coalition grouping would muster some 68 seats in the 120-member Knesset, recent surveys indicate.

Legislation detailing the nitty-gritty of dispersing the Knesset and holding elections is set be submitted to the parliament for the various rounds of voting at the start of next week. Committee discussion will begin on Sunday, with votes in the plenum on Monday.

According to Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon, a new law must be drafted at the start of the Knesset’s winter session next week because a previous Knesset dispersal law was nixed in May, just ahead of its third and final reading.

Netanyahu had called early elections in May, and the bill had been passed in a second reading, when he suddenly concluded an improbable coalition partnership with Kadima, and the move toward elections was postponed. That Likud-Kadima partnership — intended to grapple with conscription for the ultra-Orthodox, electoral reform, Palestinian peacemaking and a viable policy on Iran — held for fewer than 80 days before it collapsed in an orgy of mutual recrimination, and Kadima leader Mofaz is now one of the prime minister’s most relentless critics.

“I seek a renewed mandate from the people to continue to lead the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said on Tuesday.

He said his government, which was about to mark four years in office, had been “the most stable in decades.” It had made impressive achievements in the fields of security — including deployment of the Iron Dome anti-missile system, and progress on the Israel-Egypt border fence — and on the economy, even in the midst of a global financial crisis.

But he said there was still much work to be done — including thwarting Iran’s nuclear drive, defending Israel’s borders from terror and infiltration, maintaining Israel’s regional peace accords, protecting Israel’s interests in peace efforts with the Palestinians, and nurturing the economy, Netanyahu said.

“At this time it is not possible to pass a responsible budget” to meet those goals, Netanyahu said, because in the course of his various consultations in recent days it had become clear that too many parties were putting narrow party interests ahead of the national interest.

If he were to capitulate to their demands, the budget would massively increase the national deficit, he said, plunging Israel into the kind of economic crisis now facing several European nations. “I won’t let that happen here.”