JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday called early parliamentary elections for this winter, roughly eight months ahead of schedule, a move many analysts said was likely to allow him to strengthen his coalition.
Netanyahu said he’d decided to call early elections after he failed to reach an agreement within his coalition on cuts in the country’s 2013 budget. He cited the potential impact on the economy as one reason for quicker elections.
"For Israel, it is preferable to have as short a campaign as possible, one of three months over one that would last in practice an entire year and damage Israel’s economy," he said.
Political analysts said, however, that they think that Netanyahu moved now to take advantage of his relatively high standing in public opinion polls.
“There is every indication that (Netanyahu) will sweep the next elections,” said Amit Segal, an analyst for Israel’s Channel 2 News. “His future coalition could be more powerful than his current one.”
Israel’s political system requires elections at least once every four years, but prime ministers often call them early. The elections, which are for political factions in Israel’s parliament, or Knesset, also determine the prime minister. Whichever party holds the greatest number of seats in the parliament and is able to put together a coalition places its leader in the prime minister’s office.
According to recent polls by the newspapers Haaretz, Yediot Ahronot and Maariv, Netanyahu’s Likud Party will make sweeping gains in the next election, with his party slated to earn 28 to 32 seats in the 120-seat parliament.
Israeli officials said they hadn’t yet set a date for the elections, though Netanyahu’s office said they’d be sometime between late January and mid-February. According to Israeli law, the elections must be on a Tuesday, and political parties must get at least three months to campaign.
Israeli political leaders from across the spectrum welcomed Netanyahu’s call for early elections.
Shelly Yachimovich, the head of the left-of-center Labor Party, said it was “high time” that Israel went to the polls.
"The country has actually been in election mode for over six months, which is unhealthy and should be stopped as soon as possible," she wrote on her Facebook page. "The public must remember that Netanyahu is going to elections so that immediately afterwards, he can pass a harsh budget following election – a budget that will harm the lives of all of us, except the very richest."
Labor, which is polling a distant second to Likud, enjoyed a burst of support earlier this year when protests swept the country over the high cost of living.
Other political parties have struggled to make an impact with voters. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has remained entangled in legal battles, though he’s suggested he’d like to make his comeback with the Kadima Party. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party is expected to hold close to its current number of seats, as will right-wing religious parties such as Shas.
A new party, led by former TV anchor Yair Lapid, is expected to pick up many seats from the Kadima Party, though Lapid’s political popularity is untested.
Frenkel is a McClatchy special correspondent.