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Israelis vote in parliamentary election

Voting starts in Israel's parliamentary elections

Jerusalem, (IANS) Israelis were casting their ballots on Tuesday in a parliamentary election which is expected to be a close race between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and its main rival, the centre-left Zionist Union.

After casting his vote with his wife Sarah at a polling station in Jerusalem, Netanyahu reiterated his stance not to sit in a national unity government headed by the Zionist Union, Xinhua news agency reported.

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"The gaps between us are very deep," he said. "The only government I will establish would be with our natural partners", meaning the right wing parties.

None of the parties are expected to win by a drastic margin and therefore it is possible that the issue of a unity government between the Likud and the Zionist Union could come up in negotiations on forming a ruling coalition following the election.

Leader of the Zionist Union Yitzhak Herzog voted in a polling station near his house in Tel Aviv, reminding voters that they could make a change.

"We need to remember that Israel is a democratic country where the people decide," he said before casting his ballot, adding that the election was "between change and hope, and despair and disappointment".

Voting started at 7 a.m. On Tuesday and is due to end at 10 p.m. There are 5.8 million Israelis eligible to vote in 10,119 polling stations spread nationwide.

More than 20 parties are vying for the 120 seats in the one-chamber Knesset (parliament), of which opinion polls predict some 11 will make it to the Knesset.

The opposition centre-left Zionist Union is projected to be the largest party with around 25 seats, followed by the Likud with around 21 seats.

Despite the lead, it is believed that the Likud and its like-minded allies have a better chance to win a majority of seats in the parliament for the right to form the cabinet.

According to Israeli election law, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will nominate the leader of the party which has the best chance of establishing a stable coalition with the support of at least 61 of the 120 members of parliament.

At a polling station in the central coastal city of Tel Aviv, Roy Aharon, 42, told Xinhua that he voted for the opposition centre-left Zionist Union party led by Yitzhak Herzog.

"Last time I voted for Yair Lapid (leader of Yash Atid party), but I think it was a mistake. He made many promises he didn't keep and things were actually worse," Aharon said.

"I feel that if we don't replace him, we don't have any hope left. The Zionist Union has some excellent politicians, and I hope they will be strong enough to beat Netanyahu and the Likud."

Three major Israeli television stations will broadcast the results of their exit polls at 10 p.m. Tuesday and official results are expected to be announced early Wednesday morning after most of the votes are counted.

 

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