Election Day – Israelis vote for 21st Knesset

?️ Israeli voters began casting ballots Tuesday in parliamentary elections that will determine whether longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains in office after a decade in power.

Polling stations opened at 7 am local time, with exit polls expected at the end of the voting day, at 10 pm. Some 6.4 million eligible voters will be able to cast their ballots at more than 10,000 stations, some 200 of them located in hospitals and over 50 in prisons.

President Reuven Rivlin arrived at the voting station without his wife by his side, as she remains hospitalized following a serious health scare last week after undergoing a lung transplant last month.

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His voice cracking and tears welling up in his eyes, Rivlin said: “for the last 50 years, I’ve voted here with my wife.” I’m optimistic and full of hope that next time we’ll vote here in our regular place.”

Some 40 parties are running, but no more than a dozen are expected to make it into parliament. Election day in Israel is a national holiday, with turnout expected to be high in good weather.

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As many as a half-dozen parties are teetering along the threshold for entering the Knesset, or parliament. A failure by any of these parties to get the required 3.25 percent of total votes cast could have a dramatic impact on who ultimately forms the next coalition. The Israeli government needs a parliamentary majority to rule, and since no party has ever earned more than half of the 120 seats in the Knesset, a coalition is required.

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Official results will begin streaming in early Wednesday, but it may take far longer for a final verdict to come through, given the fragmented state of Israeli politics

The election has emerged as a referendum on Netanyahu and his 13 years overall in power, with the existential questions facing Israel rarely being discussed in the campaign. The 69-year-old prime minister has been the dominant force in Israeli politics for the past two decades and its face to the world.

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Recent polls have shown that the right-wing bloc led by Netanyahu will win a majority in the Knesset. But they also show a new centrist party headed by a left-wing former general emerging as the largest faction in parliament. Surveys detect many undecided voters who could swing the election either way.

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