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Israel votes in 2nd parliamentary polls


Jerusalem:  People across Israel voted on Tuesday in the country's second parliamentary elections in five months after incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's failed to form a government after the first polls in April.

Some 6,395,396 Israelis were eligible to vote at over 11,000 polling booths that opened at 7 a.m. till 10 p.m., when counting of the ballots will begin, Efe news reported.

According to The Jerusalem Post, unofficial results will be available by Wednesday and the official winner will be declared on September 25.

Experts have predicted a lower voter turnout compared to the 67.9 per cent in the April 9 elections, which could affect the results.

Netanyahu is running for re-election and a fifth term after becoming the country's longest serving leader in July. He was first elected Prime Minister in 2009.

There are 31 parties in the race, out of which nine or 10 are expected to share the 120 seats that make up Israel's parliament.

The top two most voted parties are expected to obtain around 30 seats which is likely to lead to formations with several parties.

Meanwhile, the latest opinion polls on Monday night showed that Netanyahu's ruling Likud Party was neck and neck with its main challenger, the centrist Blue and White party led by former military chief Benny Gantz, the BBC reported.

Likud and Blue and White have 35 seats each in the 120-seat Knesset or Parliament.

The other main parties in the fray are the Joint List, made up of four parties that represent Arab citizens in the country; Israel Our Home, a far-right and secular party led by former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman; and New Right, a coalition of far-right parties led by former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

Around 20,000 uniformed and plainclothes police officials have been deployed at the polling stations around the country and the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Seventy polling booths were designated for early voting to allow Army officials who could not vote on Tuesday to cast their votes.

More than 655 booths were also set up in military bases, dozens of which will circulate between checkpoints and training posts as well as other areas.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu in an appeal to the voters wrote in the Maariv newspaper on Monday: "We find ourselves at the high point of an historic change in the history of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

"I am asking now for your confidence in order to complete the historic task and fortify the State of Israel's borders and security forever."

Last week, Netanyahu declared that he would "apply Israeli sovereignty" in the Jordan Valley if he won a record fifth term in office. The announcement amounted to a promise to effectively annex 30 per cent of the occupied West Bank, which Palestinians want to be part of a future state.

Netanyahu also reiterated a pledge from the last election to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Gantz wrote in Maariv that a victory for Blue and White, which he founded in February along with former Finance Minister Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, would "change the direction of the ship of state of Israeli democracy", reports the BBC.

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