Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has agreed to hold early elections on April 9, after the ruling coalition appeared to come up short on votes needed to pass a contentious piece of court-ordered legislation.
Netanyahu said his coalition “unanimously” agreed to disband the government and hold a new election. At a meeting of his Likud faction, he listed his accomplishments in office and said he hoped his current religious, nationalistic coalition would be the “core” of the next one as well.
“We will ask the voters for a clear mandate to continue leading the state of Israel our way,” he said to applause from party members.
Netanyahu’s coalition has been roiled by internal divisions for months, but a new law extending the military draft to ultra-Orthodox men appears to have triggered the government’s downfall.
Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox partners are demanding the legislation be weakened and his small parliamentary majority seems to be making such a compromise impossible.
The prime minister, now in his fourth term, has also been governing with a razor-thin majority of 61 seats in the 120-member parliament.
Under Israeli law, a national election had to be held by November 2019.
Netanyahu’s coalition was left with a one-seat majority in parliament following Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s resignation in November over a controversial Gaza ceasefire deal.
His resignation removed the five seats held by his party, Yisrael Beytenu, from the coalition.
The Israeli daily Haaretz reported coalition whip David Amsalem saying that it was difficult for the government to pass laws with the Knesset’s current make-up.
“We cannot continue like this,” Amsalem said, to which Netanyahu responded: “So if it’s too difficult, we need elections.”
Netanyahu is also facing mounting pressure over a series of corruption investigations into his affairs.
Speaking from the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker said the call for early elections was “expected” given the pressure Netanyahu is under.
“Many people will say that this is perhaps another shrewd move of a man who is a shrewd operator to distract from that,” Dekker said.
“Even if he is indicted, we understand he can continue being the prime minister,” she continued, adding that Netanyahu as the leader of the right-wing Likud party remains “very popular”.
Police have recommended his indictment in three different probes and the attorney general is considering how to proceed.
Some analysts believe he would be better positioned to face potential charges with a fresh electoral mandate.