Signs growing that Israeli PM will call early vote

By Aron Heller

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Oct. 5 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Barak leads the small, centrist "Independence" Party, one of the few moderate elements in a coalition dominated by nationalist and religious parties. A former prime minister and military chief, Barak is well-respected internationally.

During any campaign, opponents are likely to seize upon Netanyahu's rocky relationship with Obama. The U.S. is Israel's closest and most important ally. Netanyahu could also come under fire for his failure to advance peace talks with the Palestinians, massive street protests last summer against the growing gap between rich and poor, and widespread resentment over attempts by ultra-Orthodox parties to impose their ways on general society. A committee formed by Netanyahu to end a controversial system of draft deferments for ultra-Orthodox men failed in spectacular fashion, breeding even more anger toward religious parties.

Despite these shortcomings, Netanyahu remains popular in opinion polls, thanks to a lengthy period of quiet, a resilient economy and his handling of the Iran issue. He has no serious rivals who could defeat him.

There are plenty of contenders for second fiddle, beginning with the rejuvenated Labor Party and its leader, former journalist Shelly Yachimovich. She is hoping to capitalize on the social protests by focusing on jobs and the economy.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman hopes his ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party makes gains in the elections.

The decimated Kadima Party is also in the mix, but barely. Currently the largest party in parliament, it is has slipped badly in the polls under new leader Shaul Mofaz.

Then there's the biggest wild card of all: political newcomer Yair Lapid, a former TV anchorman who has launched a new party catering to Israel's silent majority of disgruntled middle class.

According to a survey in the Haaretz newspaper last week, if elections were held now, Netanyahu's Likud Party would win 28 seats in the 120-member parliament, putting him far ahead of any other party.

Netanyahu is also deemed most suitable to be prime minister with 35 percent support. Yachimovich lagged far behind at 16 percent.

In order to be prime minister, Netanyahu would then have to put together a coalition with 61 members.

According to the poll, Netanyahu could form another government with the Jewish religious and nationalist parties currently in his coalition. The poll indicated that dovish and Arab parties now in the opposition would likely remain a minority. The poll surveyed 507 people and had a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points.

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