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Middle East
Israeli polls show far-right gains
Yisrael Beiteinu overtakes Labor party in final surveys before February 10 vote.
Last Modified: 06 Feb 2009 21:29 GMT
Lieberman, left, says Arab residents of Israel should swear allegiance to the country [AFP]

Israel's election race has got much tighter, with the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party overtaking Labor, one of Israel's Big Three political parties in the polls.

The opinion polls, published in Israeli newspapers on Friday, show Yisrael Beiteinu, is likely to win 18 or 19 seats in the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

A poll in the Maariv newspaper indicated that Kadima, led by Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister, had closed the gap with opposition party Likud, with Benjamin Netanyahu's party now leading by only three seats.

The Labor Party of Ehud Barak, who serves as defence minister in the coalition government with Kadima, was trailing in fourth position with just 17 seats, Maariv reported.

Another poll in Yediot Ahronot showed that Likud was likely to win 25 seats in the 120-seat chamber, with Kadima picking up 23, Yisrael Beiteinu taking 19 and Labor just 16.

The polls were the last allowed before the country votes on February 10.

Security issues 

The rise of Yisrael Beiteinu, led by Avigdor Lieberman, a Russian immigrant to Israel, marks a further shift to the right following a campaign which has been largely dominated by security issues in the wake of Israel's war on Gaza.

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Profile: Avigdor Lieberman
Profile: Benjamin Netanyahu
Lieberman's party, which calls for Arab residents of Israel to swear an oath of allegiance to Israel, has been branded as "racist" by its critics.

The party rejects the accusations.

"They can't attack us on the merits of our positions, so they chose to attack us like this," Dani Ayalon, a former ambassador to the US who is running for Yisrael Beiteinu, told Al Jazeera.

Maariv's poll suggested that nearly 70 per cent of voters agreed with Lieberman's "no loyalty, no citizenship" slogan.

A poll for the Makor Rishon-Hatzofe daily, conducted by the Maagar Mohot Polling Institute, also offered further hope for Yisrael Beiteinu and Likud.

It said that a profile of undecided voters had indicated that 39% are rightist, 20% are leftist and 14% are from the centre.

Party list

Netanyahu has recognised that Lieberman, a former aide, could be sapping his support and urged voters to back him in order to ensure victory for the right.

"Any vote for a party in the national camp that is not Likud, strengthens Kadima," Netanyahu said on Israel Radio on Thursday.

Netanyahu cautioned that backing Lieberman could leave Kadima in power [AFP]

"Only a vote for Likud will enable the failing Kadima government to be replaced."

Under Israel's electoral system, voters cast ballots for a party list of parliamentary candidates.

The 120 seats in parliament are allocated in proportion to the number of votes parties receive.

Traditionally, the leader of the party that wins the most votes is asked by Israel's president to try to form a government.

All four main parties have sought to portray themselves as tough on the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip, which the government holds responsible for rocket attacks on southern Israel by Palestinian fighters.

"We believe we will achieve calm, if we don't and we have to hit again, we will know how to do it strongly or even harder if necessary," Barak told an audience on Thursday.

At least two rockets were fired across the border on Friday despite both sides declaring separate ceasefires in January, the Israeli military said.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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