Netanyahu fights for record fifth term in do-over election
Sept. 17, 2019
Netanyahu, 69, has cast himself as indispensable and blighted by voter complacency over his tenure - the longest of any Israeli prime minister. He was prime minister from June 1996 until July 1999 and has held the post since March 2009.
Warning he may be replaced by "leftists" who would weaken Israel in the eyes of both foes and friends, Netanyahu has flooded the airwaves and social media with calls on his Likud faithful to turn out in force.
Polling stations opened at 7am (2pm AEST) and were to close at 10 pm, when Israeli media were poised to publish exit polls giving a first indication of the outcome.
"It’s going to be close. It’s going to be a close election," US President Donald Trump told reporters.
Both Netanyahu and Gantz, 60, have tried to energise their bases, and poach votes from smaller parties.
Netanyahu portrays Gantz as inexperienced and incapable of commanding respect from world leaders such as Trump. Gantz accuses Netanyahu of trying to deflect attention from his possible indictment on corruption charges that the prime minister has dismissed as baseless.
Gantz also worries about public apathy. Interviewed by Army Radio, he urged Tel Aviv residents to "put down their espressos for an hour" and vote - a nod to the secular, middle-class constituency he hopes to mobilise against pro-Netanyahu religious-nationalists.
Before the last election, Trump gave Netanyahu a boost with US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. This time, the White House seems more preoccupied with Iran tensions.