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Israel's third election in a year: when it is happening and why is the country in political deadlock?

Israel is on the brink of its third election in just 12 months, facing an unprecedented electoral deadlock that has left the country in political turmoil.

The election follow two failed elections and the current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s indictment for fraud, bribery, and breach of trust. 

Here’s everything you need to know about the contentious Israeli election.

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When will the election be held?

The election is set to be held on Monday, 2 March 2020. The election was called on the 11 December 2019 as a result of the parties in government to form a coalition.

As per previous elections, after voting closes exit polls will likely be published and negotiations of a coalition are expected to begin. The president will then ask the party leader most likely to put together the government will then have 28 days to form a government.

If they fail the opposition will be provided with the chance to form a government under a new deadline. If this fails parliament will once again be left in a hung state.

How is the government structured?

Unlike Britain’s first past the post system, a much larger number of parties run in the Israeli elections and are elected through proportional representation.

There are always a host of parties that sit in the Knesset, Israel’s 120-seat parliament, but a government is formed when a party or coalition has more than 60 seats.

Ballot papers also give voters a choice of parties, rather than choosing individual candidates.

The main two parties that front-run the election are Likud, a right-wing party headed by Mr Netanyahu, and the main opposition party, Blue and White – a centrist liberal alliance led by the Israel Defence Forces’ 20th chief of general staff, Benny Gantz.

A mixture of other right and left-wing parties support the two front runners to secure a coalition in government.

Why is this the third election in the space of a year?

Israel has been in a political deadlock since its general election in April 2019. Likud won the most votes, but failed to form a coalition with enough other parties.

Another election was then held in September, but this time the opposition Blue and White party won.

However, the party was also unable to form a coalition. Mr Netanyahu, who was then offered a second opportunity to form a government by president Reuven Rivlin, faced similar problems. 

The Israeli parliament has now been left in an unprecedented position, forced to call a third election in the space of a year.

What are the most important points of contention?

Mr Netanyahu is the first sitting prime minister to be indicted on criminal charges, but that does not mean he won’t be re-elected.

However, his opponents say this has raised concerns among voters that Israel’s democracy is under threat, as he could seek immunity from prosecution while he is in office by altering legislation.

Another point of contention is Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and the strategic area of land known as the Jordan Valley.

Mr Netanyahu has pledged to annex the Jordan Valley upon re-election, in a move condemned by the international community with the exception of the US. Mr Gantz has expressed support for the move but only “in coordination with international cooperation”.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu announcing his plans for a ‘united Jerusalem’

What do the polls say and who is likely to win?

According to Haaretz, a local newspaper, the Blue and White party are edging ahead of Likud in the polls with 34.5 projected seats. 

However, this seems to have been the case in many prior elections and even if the polling is accurate, the opposition is still at least 26 seats away from forming a government. 

To make matters worse for the party, a series of public opinion surveys published this week are showing a comeback of Likud for the first time since the series of new elections were called, Haaretz reported. 

Additional reporting by Bel Trew