Middle East

Israeli PM Netanyahu calls for early general election

Benjamin Netanyahu (6 May 2012)
Image caption Benjamin Netanyahu says he does not want "a year and a half of political instability"

Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has said he wants the country's general election to be held on 4 September, more than a year early.

Mr Netanyahu told the cabinet that his Likud party would propose the date to parliament, adding: "If God's willing, the voters will give us a mandate."

Some parties want to delay a decision.

Polls suggest Likud will win at least a quarter of the Knesset's 120 seats, putting Mr Netanyahu in a strong position to form a governing coalition.

His right-wing administration, Israel's most stable in years, had been scheduled to remain in power until October 2013.

'Short campaign'

On Sunday, Mr Netanyahu said in a speech to a Likud meeting that he would seek an early election in the autumn but did not disclose when.

"I believe we will get a renewed mandate from the citizens of Israel to continue to lead the country. With God's help, we will form as wide a government as possible," he said.

"I don't want there to be a year and a half of political instability accompanied by blackmail and populism," he added. "I would prefer a short electoral campaign of four months that will ensure political stability,"

Officials said the prime minister had not given a specific date during the speech because he wanted to consult with other parties in his coalition.

But on Monday morning Mr Netanyahu told a weekly cabinet meeting that Likud would submit a bill to parliament formally proposing 4 September.

"I intend to form as broad a government as possible in order to create stability and successfully lead the State of Israel against the great challenges we still face," he added.

The bill could face opposition from the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, as well as the centrist Kadima and Independent parties, when it comes before the Knesset.

All three parties are said to want to delay dissolving parliament until a vote has been held on changes to the so-called Tal Law, which exempts of ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students from military conscription. It was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in February.

"All parties must end the wheeling and dealing," Kadima said in a statement on Sunday. "We have here an historic opportunity. First we must fix the Tal Law, and then we can go to elections."

Secularists say the Tal Law is unfair, but small religious parties - which are crucial to Mr Netanyahu's coalition - want ultra-Orthodox youths to continue to be allowed to opt for religious study over military service.

The BBC's Wyre Davis in Jerusalem says the timing of Mr Netanyahu's announcement may also be a move to strengthen his own position if Barack Obama wins another term as US president later this year.

The two have disagreed on Israel's relations with the Palestinians, and many on the Israeli right are concerned that Mr Obama might pressure both sides to re-start talks, having failed to do so in his first term.

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