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Israeli polls see Netanyahu ahead, but many still undecided

Benjamin Netanyahu. Photograph:( AFP )

AFP Jerusalem, Israel Apr 05, 2019, 05.47 PM (IST)

Final authorised opinion polls published Friday just days ahead of the Israeli general elections showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heading for a fifth term in office, leading a right-wing coalition.

The polls revealed the rival centrist Blue and White list led by former military chief Benny Gantz was running virtually neck-and-neck with Netanyahu's Likud ahead of Tuesday's vote. 

But while most polls saw Gantz's list as scooping slightly more votes than Likud, neither party was predicted to win over 25 per cent of seats in parliament.

And the polls were unanimous in forecasting that Likud would be able to build a viable ruling coalition to beat off Gantz's challenge.

None gave a figure for undecided voters, although the number is reportedly high enough to swing the outcome. 

"Past polls have shown that nearly one out of every six-seven voters makes a decision only in the last two days before the elections, and it isn't clear what will be the dynamic of the coming few days," Maariv daily wrote Friday.

'Referendum on Netanyahu'

A poll by Smith Research for the Jerusalem Post published Friday showed Gantz's Blue and White, picking up 28 seats in the 120-member Knesset, with the right-wing Likud at its heels with 27.

But it found that overall the right and centre-right would control 68 seats compared to 52 from the centre and left.

This election is more than ever a referendum on the character of Netanyahu, 69, who has spent a cumulative 13 years in office.

He is running under the shadow of probable graft indictments, although he denies all accusations.

The attorney general has announced his intention to charge Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust pending a hearing, to be held after the election.

Friday is by law the last day on which surveys can be released before the ballot boxes open on Tuesday morning.

A poll published late Thursday by public broadcaster KAN gave the right a narrower, although still decisive, lead of 64 to 56.

Top-selling daily Yediot Aharonot put the gap as narrower still, at 63-57.

Polls have been wrong in the past, notably in 1996 when Netanyahu fought Labour leader Shimon Peres in what were then direct elections for the premiership.

When voting closed on the night of May 29 Peres was seen ahead, but by morning Netanyahu had the lead.

The final count handed him victory by just 30,000 votes, less than one per cent.

Threshold uncertainty

Tuesday's fight, under different electoral laws than 1996, will be more complex by far.

Voters no longer vote for the premier but for a party, of which there are around 40 registered to run. 

Less than half are expected to score the 3.25 per cent threshold of total votes cast needed to enter the legislature so despite voters' stated preferences many of them will never see a seat in parliament.

"All of the hair-splitting calculations about the right wing bloc versus the centre-left bloc are based on the assumption that aside from Gesher, all of the parties will pass the electoral threshold," veteran political commentator Nahum Barnea wrote in Yediot.

"Nobody can be certain of that."

Gesher, focused on social issues, has a single seat in the outgoing parliament which most polls see it as losing.

A poll published Friday by pro-Netanyahu freesheet Israel Hayom gave the right-wing parties 64 seats and those dubbed "the left" 56.  

But it showed 35 per cent of respondents were still unsure how to vote on Tuesday.

Netanyahu has for several days been urging Likud voters to get out and vote and not assume that a right-wing victory is in the bag.

About 6.3 million Israelis are eligible to vote with polling stations in cities and towns open on Tuesday from 7:00 am until 10:00 pm (0400 - 1900 GMT).

Turnout in the previous election in 2015 was 72.3 per cent.

When results are in, President Reuven Rivlin, will consult all the elected parties to hear who they recommend should try to form a government. 

On the basis of those talks, he asks the person he judges has the best chances, which may not necessarily be the leader of the largest party.

Story highlights

The polls revealed the rival centrist Blue and White list led by former military chief Benny Gantz was running virtually neck-and-neck with Netanyahu's Likud ahead of Tuesday's vote.