JERUSALEM – Israel officially opened its election season on Monday as parliament dissolved itself and scheduled a vote for January, plunging the country into a vicious, three-month political campaign.
Israeli leaders launched harsh attacks on one another during a long parliamentary debate that preceded the vote to dissolve parliament that passed unanimously late Monday night, setting the parameters for what is likely to follow in the campaign. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted of his achievements, while the opposition heckled and insulted him mercilessly.
Netanyahu announced last week that he was calling early elections, months ahead of schedule. The immediate reason for the vote is his coalition government’s inability to pass a budget by a Dec. 31 deadline. With the economy slowing, the government would have been forced to make steep cutbacks unpopular with voters.
But after leading a remarkably stable coalition for nearly four years, Netanyahu also appears to have sensed that the time is ripe to win a new term. Netanyahu’s Likud Party is leading in most opinion polls.
Parliament approved Netanyahu’s proposal for elections on Jan. 22. Elections had been scheduled for October 2013.
Opinion polls have forecast that the Likud would win roughly 29 seats in the 120-member parliament, making it the largest single party and putting Netanyahu in position to form a new coalition government. The polls predict the nationalist and religious parties that dominate his current coalition will likely control a majority of seats in the next parliament as well.