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Israel to hold early election in April, Netanyahu reveals

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday a snap election in less than four months.The April 9 election would otherwise not have been due until November .

The prime minister is appealing directly to voters for a fresh political mandate that could help him weather possible charges in corruption investigations .

The government cited differences within Netanyahu ’ s coalition over a new military conscription bill affecting exemptions for ultra- Orthodox Jews as the main reason for the early ballot .

But there has long been speculation that the right- wing leader , whose popularity has held up in spite of corruption allegations , could call an election .
Netanyahu wants to do this before the attorney general decides whether to follow police recommendations to indict him .

The indictment decision had been expected within weeks , but some Israeli media reports said the attorney general could opt to delay any indictments out of concern over influencing the outcome of the poll .

The Justice Ministry said work on the cases would continue “ independent of political events” .

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and has given no indication he will step down if charged .

“ The voters , I think , understand exactly what we have done for Israel , ” Netanyahu told lawmakers from his Likud party on Monday .

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“ We are coming to ask for a clear mandate from the voters to continue leading Israel our way . ”

Leaders of parties in the ruling coalition met earlier in the day with Netanyahu and announced a decision to ask parliament to dissolve itself .

A Likud spokesman said the dissolution vote was likely this week .

Netanyahu has been governing with a majority of a single seat in parliament since November when Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman quit the government.

An electoral victory would give Netanyahu ammunition to fight a potential indictment , said Hebrew University political analyst Reuven Hazan .

“ He wants to win. He wants to turn around to the attorney general and say , ‘ before you decide to prosecute me , pay attention . The people of Israel have reelected me . You cannot overturn the results of a democratic election . ’”

After the election was announced , the main Tel Aviv share indexes fell by more than two per cent and the Israeli shekel also weakened .

Since Lieberman ’ s resignation last month , Netanyahu took over as defence minister as well as prime minister .

He has been appearing regularly in photos with soldiers , seen as a bid to boost his image ahead of a likely early election .

In recent speeches , he has focused on what he called his main achievements in meeting security challenges posed by Iran and Palestinian militants, building a strong economy and pursuing diplomatic outreach with moderate Arab states .

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No one in Netanyahu ’ s Likwd has made a public challenge against him .

Outside Likwd , Yair Lapid , head of the centrist Yesh Atid opposition party, is seen as the strongest candidate to succeed Netanyahu in any upset .

Former army chief Benny Gantz is seen as a dovish potential candidate who could tip the balance in favour of a centre – left bloc , but has not yet thrown his hat in the ring.

On the right, Lieberman and Naftali Bennett , head of the Jewish Home party , could both seek to head a right – wing bloc .

Netanyahu has been in power for three consecutive terms since 2009 and also led Israel from 1996 – 1999 .

( Reuters / NAN )

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