Israelis voted Monday in an unprecedented third election in less than a year to decide whether longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stays in power despite his upcoming trial on corruption charges, the AP reports. His trial begins March 17. Netanyahu, the longest-serving leader in Israeli history, has been a caretaker prime minister for more than a year as a divided country has weathered two inconclusive votes and prolonged political paralysis. With opinion polls forecasting another deadlock, Netanyahu is seeking a late surge in support to score a parliamentary majority along with other nationalist parties that will give him a fourth consecutive term in office and fifth overall.
He faces a stiff challenge once again from retired military chief Benny Gantz, whose centrist Blue and White party is running even with Netanyahu's Likud on a campaign message that the prime minister is unfit to lead because of the serious charges against him. Both parties appear unable to form a coalition with their traditional allies. With the prospect of a unity government between them seemingly off the table after a particularly nasty campaign, the vote may well turn into merely a preamble to another election. The new PM will have up to six weeks to form a coalition. If he fails, another candidate then has 28 days to form an alternative coalition. If that effort fails, new elections would be forced. Exit polls are expected at 3pm Eastern time; official results are expected overnight.
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