'There is no sense of celebration' since Israel celebrates its third election in a year

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu He sought re-election on Monday under the weight of an impending corruption trial, and the country's third vote in less than a year is expected to end in another deadlock.

The elections follow the inconclusive votes of last April and September that softened the aura of political invincibility once enjoyed by the longest-running prime minister of Israel, who denied having acted badly in the three cases of bribery against him .

Today I have no sense of celebration, said the president Reuven Rivlin He said after voting, expressing frustration across the country after a seemingly endless election season. The feeling I have is not simple, it is even ashamed, when I face them, the citizens of Israel.

Opinion polls predict that neither the right-wing Likud of Netanyahu nor the Blue and White centrist party of his main rival, the former head of the armed forces, will get enough votes by themselves or with coalition allies, for a ruling majority in the parliament.

Israelis can vote until 10 p.m. (2000 GMT), when the media can publish the first exit polls and indicate if the deadlock has been broken. Further stagnation could push Israel, where a budget for 2020 is still pending, to an economic limbo.

The candidates were more optimistic than Rivlin, who, as president, will guide any coalition conversation in the coming weeks.

When voting in his hometown on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, Gantz told reporters: I really hope that in the coming weeks, after the results, we can put Israel on a new path.

Netanyahu, who voted in Jerusalem, said: Go vote. It is a day of pride.

He said that Israel had taken all necessary precautions to control the spread of the coronavirus and added: People can go to vote with complete confidence.

Participation figures will be closely watched, particularly given concern over the global outbreak and accusations of malicious rumors about pollution in areas seen as strengths for particular parties.

By noon, almost 28% of eligible voters had cast votes, the highest level at this stage in two decades.

Voters under house quarantine, such as those who recently traveled to Israel from coronavirus hot spots, voted in special polling stations with facial masks and gloves.

THE ACCUSED

Israel's economy has resisted political turmoil, with strong growth and a tight labor market. But the longer the stagnation continues, the higher the cost, including the lack of new funds for health, education, welfare or infrastructure projects until the parliament approves an annual budget.

Netanyahu, 70, hopes that a peace plan that US President Donald Trump presented in January will help him win an unprecedented fifth term, although the Palestinians have rejected it.

Netanyahu says that the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over settlements in the occupied West Bank will allow him to annex them within a few weeks of the election.

But his re-election attempt has been complicated since the last elections because of his accusation of bribery, abuse of trust and fraud for accusations that he granted state favors worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Israeli media barons in exchange for gifts and favorable coverage.

The trial will begin on March 17, when the coalition and post-election negotiations are probably in full swing.

Gantz calls Netanyahu the defendant and accused him of trying to retain power to promote legislation that prevents authorities from prosecuting an acting prime minister.

Netanyahu says that Gantz, 60, would need the support of Arab politicians in parliament to form a government and that they would tie their hands in any military action in the region.

He has portrayed Gantz as a coward unable to face the many dangers Israel faces in a tense region and has suggested that he is hiding secrets that would open him to the blackmail of his enemy Iran.

The Israeli army said in a statement that it had attacked a vehicle in the Golan Heights controlled by Syria on Monday after an attempted sniper attack from the area. The border has been tense throughout Syria's civil war.

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