Netanyahu seen calling winter election

The prime minister is believed to have decided on an early election, although budget negotiations continue.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to declare early elections within two weeks. Political sources increasingly believe that, although Netanyahu met Minister of Finance Yuval Steinitz this morning to discuss the possibility of passing the state budget, the Prime Minister's Bureau has already decided to hold elections this winter, and to pass the 2013 budget afterwards. Elections will probably be held in February or March 2013.

Although a decision has already been taken at the Prime Minister's Bureau, and the efforts to reach an agreement with the coalition partners on the budget and austerity measures are only for the sake of appearances, it seems that Netanyahu prefers to delay an official announcement for early elections in order to shorten time for organizing by his political rivals. He wants a snap election within 90-100 days, in order to prevent Aryeh Deri, Tzipi Livni, and Ehud Olmert from organizing.

As things stand now, when the Knesset returns from its summer recess in mid-October, MKs will hold the second and third readings to disperse, and the election campaign will officially begin. Parties will probably hold primaries to draw up their lists in December.

In a few days, Netanyahu will meet the heads of the coalition parties to discuss the budget, but political sources believe that the talks are merely to go through the motions, to enable him to blame the early elections on Shas and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak's Ha'atzma'ut Party.

The sources believe that Netanyahu's main reasons for early elections are political, rather than budgetary. Besides the fact that a decision to approve an austerity-filled state budget before elections would mainly hurt the Likud, sources increasingly believe that Olmert plans to return to politics, which could undermine Netanyahu and remove him from power. If elections are brought forward to February, Olmert will not have enough time to prepare, and his return to politics will be delayed. The likely reelection of US President Barack Obama is also part of Netanyahu's calculations. Netanyahu's aides fear revenge by Obama against Netanyahu for supporting the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, throughout the campaign.

The latest polls published by "Globes" and "Haaretz" last week, which show the Likud winning 28 Knesset seats, are also a factor in the decision to hold elections as soon as possible. The Likud is afraid that, over time, other parties are liable to gain strength at the Likud's expense, as the public will blame it for the austerity measures.

Hints of Netanyahu's decision to call early elections can be found in his speech before the UN General Assembly last Thursday, when he postponed the red line for attacking Iran to next summer, which will allow him to put Iran's nuclear program at the top of his campaign agenda.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on October 2, 2012

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2012

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