Voting has begun in Israel’s general elections, which are expected to return Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to a third term with a smaller majority in a coalition government of rightwing and religious parties. Security has been tightened across the country for Tuesday’s polls, which began at 7am (5:00GMT), and more than 20,000 police officers have been deployed to secure the vote. Opinion polls predict that Netanyahu’s Likud party, which has forged an electoral pact with the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu group, will take the most seats in the parliamentary election.
But no Israeli party has ever secured an absolute majority, meaning that Netanyahu, who says that dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions is his top priority, will have to bring various allies on board to control the 120-seat Knesset.
Netanyahu has vowed to pursue the Jewish settlement of lands seized during the 1967 Middle East war if he stays in power, a policy that would push Israel away from peace with the Palestinians, put it at odds with Washington, and deepen the country’s international isolation.
The next government is also facing challenges at home, including a major budget crisis and looming austerity cuts which are likely to exacerbate already widespread discontent over spiralling prices and the cost of living.