Parliamentary elections begin in Israel

February 10th, 2009 - 1:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Jerusalem, Feb 10 (Xinhua) Israelis began voting Tuesday morning to elect their next parliament and premier.

About 5.3 million Israelis, out of a total of 7.2 million, are eligible to vote, which began at 7 a.m. and will run till 10 p.m. at over 9,200 polling stations across the country.

Thirty-three groups are competing for a share of the 120 parliamentary seats, and they must pass the minimum threshold of two percent of votes cast in order to be represented.

In the last general election in 2006, 31 parties registered to run but only 12 entered the legislature.

Some 16,000 police and Border Guard officers, as well as about 2,500 volunteers and 4,500 security guards, have been deployed to polling stations and crowded sites to prevent any untoward incidents.

Pre-election surveys have indicated a close match between the two front-running parties, the centre-right Likud and the centrist Kadima, with the former enjoying a small edge. Trailing behind them are the ultra-nationalist Israel Beiteinu and the centre-left Labour Party.

Following the election, President Shimon Peres will ask a lawmaker, usually the leader of the party that wins the majority of votes, to form a new government.

Till the new cabinet is sworn in, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has been serving as a caretaker leader for over four months, will remain in office.

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