Netanyahu set to return but weather boosts Left

ISRAELIS voted yesterday in an election expected to return premier Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition to power.

Last night, election officials said turnout was expected to be high, due to warm weather. Left-wing and centrist party leaders said they hoped this would play in their favour.

“Suddenly people are coming out of their homes. Maybe there will be an upheaval,” said Tzipi Livni, head of the centrist HaTnua party which campaigned for peace talks with the Palestinians.

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However, turnout among Arab citizens of Israel was said to be markedly lower than that of Israeli Jews, something that would work to Mr Netanyahu’s favour.

If Mr Netanyahu is dealt a major setback, Labour party leader Sheli Yacimovich, a former journalist who has ignored the Palestinian issue in favour of a socioeconomic focus during the campaign, would likely emerge as the leading candidate for the premiership.

Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party that campaigned against military draft exemptions for the ultra-orthodox, could also emerge as an important player. Polls published last week gave Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc 63 seats in the 120-member Knesset

Mr Netanyahu used the campaign to announce plans to expand settlement in the occupied West Bank, bringing criticism from the international community. After years of deadlock in the peace process, in part because he refused to extend a freeze on settlements, it is possible Mr Netanyahu could now be pulled into a tougher pro-settler stance if the far-right Jewish Home party scores well in the election. Domestically, he is expected to make deep budget cuts in a bid to cut of a huge deficit.