A day after her right-wing opposition party saw a massive bump in its polling numbers, Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked called Wednesday for elections to be held after Israel overcomes the current wave of coronavirus infections, touting party chair Naftali Bennett as a replacement for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“After this wave of illness, we have to go to the polls within two or three months,” Shaked told Channel 12 in an interview.
Placing tacit blame for the ongoing nationwide lockdown on the government, she said that elections would save the country more money than they cost by preventing further failure.
“Another closure will cost the economy NIS 20 billion. Elections are only two billion,” Shaked said.
“The current government is not functioning and Yamina is a leadership alternative to Likud. Bennett would be an excellent prime minister,” the former justice minister added.
Shaked’s comments came a day after a television opinion poll indicated that Yamina is closing the gap on the ruling Likud party led by Netanyahu.
If elections were held today, Likud would pick up 26 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, while Naftali Bennett’s Yamina would win 23, the Channel 12 survey found. In March’s elections, Likud won 36 seats, and Yamina just six.
No elections are currently set to take place, but speculation is rampant that an early vote will be called sometime in the next several months, as bad blood between Netanyahu and his Blue and White partner Defense Minister Benny Gantz continues to brew, in the shadow of a budget deadline at the end of the year that could automatically fell the government.
The Channel 12 survey found that a plurality of respondents, 49 percent, say the government should be dissolved and early elections — which would be the fourth national vote since April 2019 — should be called. Just 30% said the government should continue operating and 21% said they don’t know. Broken down by political leanings, 58% of center-left voters, and 45% of right-wing voters, said elections should be called as soon as possible.
In response to the Tuesday poll, Likud said in a statement: “Everyone knows how it will end. We’re used to the left-wing media propping up Bennett to bring down Prime Minister Netanyahu and Likud. It won’t work this time either.”
Yamina has been steadily making gains as a protest movement against Netanyahu’s corruption charges has gained steam and as the country has floundered in efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
In May, polls projected 41 seats for Likud and just seven for Yamina, with the gap narrowing steadily ever since. Bennett has pounded the prime minister for the government’s purported mishandling of the coronavirus crisis, while presenting himself as a viable right-wing alternative.
Also facing pressure from the other side of the political spectrum, Netanyahu’s Likud got into a back-and-forth row with coalition partners Blue and White Wednesday evening after Gantz’s centrist party renewed its “ultimatum” for a 2020 state budget to be passed immediately.
Likud called the ultimatum “a shameful attempt by Blue and White to extricate themselves from their collapse in the polls.”
In response, Blue and White said the Likud reaction “draws into question the prime minister’s ability to make sound decisions under the pressures of the current circumstances.”
“Blue and White will continue to insist that a 2021 budget be passed, in consideration of the best interests of the country, and will further protect those interests through every political means at its disposal,” a party statement said.
Since the new government was formed it has been riven by squabbling between Likud and Blue and White, and the dissolution of the Knesset was only narrowly avoided in August when legislation delaying the passage of the state budget until late December was passed at the last minute.
If the Knesset fails to pass a budget by the new date, the country would enter new elections without Netanyahu having to hand over the premiership to Gantz, which he is required to do under their power-sharing agreement.