Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a press conference for 8 p.m. Tuesday, and will likely announce his intention to hold early elections. Likud sources told The Times of Israel that the elections, which are currently slated for October 2013, would be set for January 15, 2013, the earliest possible date on which they can legally be held.
The move would obviate Netanyahu’s need to pass a budget for 2013 before the election. If reelected, the prime minister would presumably receive the electoral validation and coalitional legitimacy to implement deep budgetary cuts to bolster Israel’s economy in an increasingly shaky climate — without the need to compromise in order to keep his coalition partners in line in an election year.
Last week, Netanyahu met with senior ministers in his coalition about the possibility of passing a budget and the alternative — early elections.
A senior Likud source quoted by the Hebrew news website Ynet said that attempts to pass a new annual budget had been “few” and halfhearted. “They failed,” he said, “and no one really wants to fight over the budget.”
Reelection would also give Netanyahu a fresh mandate to continue his tough stance toward Iran’s nuclear program.
After presiding over a remarkably stable coalition for nearly four years, the prime minister has little incentive to wait a few extra months when the cards seem stacked in his favor. Early elections would presumably curb the rising star of Labor and its chair Shelly Yachimovich, who has been steadily gaining popularity in recent months, as well as halting the momentum of wild-card candidate Yair Lapid.
Yachimovich on Tuesday said elections were long overdue, charging that Netanyahu’s policy over the past four years had led to a “violent jungle economy.”
“The country has actually been in the midst of an election campaign for the past six months, which is an unhealthy and unstable situation that must be ended soon,” Yachimovich said on her Facebook page. “The public must bear in mind that Netanyahu is calling elections in order to afterward pass a cruel, harsh budget that will negatively impact the lives of almost all Israeli citizens — all but the very rich.
“The public will have to decide between two approaches — mine and Netanyahu’s,” she said.
According to a recent survey in Haaretz, if elections were held now, Netanyahu’s Likud party would win 28 seats in the 120-member Knesset, putting him far ahead of any other party.
AP contributed to this report.