Israelis vote in second general election in five months

Agency, 17 September : Israelis are voting in their country’s second general election in five months. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the snap election after failing to form a governing coalition with a viable majority after April’s vote.

The final opinion polls put his right-wing Likud party neck and neck with its main challenger, the centrist Blue and White party led by former military chief Benny Gantz. Smaller parties could therefore have a big say in the final outcome.

Negotiations on the formation of a new coalition are expected to start as soon as voting ends at 22:00 (19:00 GMT) and exit polls are published. Likud and Blue and White came away with 35 seats each in the 120-seat Knesset.

Mr Netanyahu declared victory and it appeared that he would be able to secure a majority with the backing of smaller right-ring and religious parties. But after several chaotic weeks the attempted coalition-building collapsed into recriminations.

On the surface was a dispute over Israel’s secular versus its religious character, says the BBC’s Tom Bateman in Jerusalem.

But ultimately, our correspondent adds, Mr Netanyahu’s problems stemmed from a narrowing range of options to build a governing bloc, weakened as he is by the charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust he faces in three corruption cases, pending a final hearing. He has denied any wrongdoing.

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