Israelis prepare to go to the polls

Leaders make final push for votes as a close contest between Kadima and Likud is expected.

    Israeli soldiers on remote bases vote early so their ballots can be counted on election day [EPA]

    "If Kadima gets just one mandate more than Likud, we will be able to form a governing coalition as we are a centrist party that can bring together the right and the left," she said.

    Coalition factor

    Under the Israeli election system it is the person deemed most likely to form a governing coalition who will be charged with forming a government, and Netanyahu has also stressed he would also seek a broad coalition.

    In depth

    Al Jazeera's coverage of the Israel elections

    "A narrow government would not be in a position to face the challenges posed by the threat of a nuclear Iran, Hamas, rocket fire and the economic crisis," he said.

    However, Netanyahu also reiterated his hardline stance on security, vowing he would never cede territory captured from Syria in the 1967 war during his tour of the Golan Heights on Monday.

    Polling stations open at 7am (05:00 GMT) and close at 10pm (20:00 GMT) on Tuesday.

    Kadima, led by Livni, the foreign minister, is almost neck-and-neck with Likud, with the last opinion polls ahead of the election predicting it to win between 23 and 25 seats, while Likud is likely to win between 25 and 27.

    Opinion polls have also indicated that has seen the country's right-wing parties will make significant gains.

    Yisrael Beiteinu, led by Avigdor Lieberman, could be the key to being able to form a coalition with opinion polls suggesting that his party would take third place.

    His campaign slogan "no loyalty, no citizenship" has angered Palestinian-Israelis who he proposes should take an oath of loyalty to Israel.

    Early voting took place on Monday in some areas of Israel and the West Bank, with soldiers on remote bases among those allowed to cast their ballot one day early.

    Right-wing gains

    Al Jazeera's Mike Hanna, reporting from Jerusalem, said while Netanyahu remained a strong frontrunner, the gap between his party and the Kadima party had narrowed considerably.

    He said there had been a "certain bleeding of support from Likud to the Yisrael Beiteinu party" which looked likely to win the third-largest amount of seats.

    "[This] would give it a strong possibility of being the party to define who actually would govern the country after this election," Hanna said.

    "This is the reason there has to be a coalition. No single party will be able to get the 61 plus votes needed to have an absolute majority in the 120-seat Knesset."

    Israel's assault on Gaza has had a "huge impact" on Israeli society as the election nears, Gil Hoffman, a political analyst and chief correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, said.

    "Here, at first, it looked like the war would be helping out the Likud party. Then it really turned out that it helped the Yisrael Beiteinu party, which is an ultra patriotic party. The atmosphere was very helpful to that party," he said.
    "There are certainly many undecided voters, a lot of people are going to be deciding what they are going to do when they get to the polling station tomorrow and that really says something about how unattractive our candidates are."

    Livni has distanced herself from promises made by Ehud Olmert, the former Kadima leader, to remove 60,000 West Bank settlers, reflecting the hardening mood in Israel, subsequent to the Gaza conflict.

    Gaza truce talks

    More than 1,300 Palestinians were killed in Israel's 22-day war on the Palestinian territory. Thirteen Israelis also died.

    Indirect talks between Israel and Hamas, mediated by Egypt, are under way in a bid to formalise a ceasefire agreement.

    Speculation has been rife over a deal with Hamas to free Gilad Shalit [EPA]
    Recent days have seen increasing talk of a deal with Hamas over Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured in a cross-border raid by Palestinian fighters in 2006.

    Any progress on Shalit's release would probably boost support for Kadima and its coalition partner Labor, led by Ehud Barak, the defence minister.

    Barak has been behind the recent speculation about a deal on Shalit after telling reporters "supreme efforts" were being made to secure the captured soldier's release.

    But the prime minister's office on Sunday dismissed talk of a deal as "harmful and exaggerated", and while an agreement might be reached before Olmert leaves office - he could stay in the role for up to 42 days until a coalition is formed - it is unlikely to occur before the ballot.

    Hamas officials have told Al Jazeera that Shalit's release would not be part of any ceasefire deal.

    Once the election results are in, Shimon Peres, Israel's president, will ask the head of the party with the most votes to form a government within 28 days, a period which the president could extended by up to 14 days.

    To achieve a majority, a party or coalition must hold more than 60 of the Knesset's 120 seats.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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