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Fresh Israeli election looms as Bennett steps down

2022-06-21 HKT 02:52
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  • Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) speaks with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left) during a cabinet meeting. Photo: AFP
    Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) speaks with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left) during a cabinet meeting. Photo: AFP
Israeli lawmakers will vote to dissolve parliament, opening the way for the country's fifth election in three years, following weeks of pressure on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's fragile ruling coalition.

Bennett will step aside to be replaced by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, his partner in the unlikely coalition of opposites that ended former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's record 12-year rule 12 months ago.

Lapid, a former journalist who heads the largest party in the coalition, will serve as interim prime minister until new elections can be held.

"We are standing before you today in a moment that is not easy, but with the understanding we made the right decision for Israel," Bennett said in a televised statement as he stood alongside Lapid.

A vote will be held in parliament next week, after which Lapid will take over the premiership, according to Bennett's spokesperson.

The move comes just weeks ahead of a planned visit by US President Joe Biden which the government had been counting on to help boost regional security ties against Israel's longtime enemy Iran.

However the eight-party coalition, including hard-right, liberal and Arab parties with deep differences on questions from religion to the Palestinian issue, had faced growing strains as its slight majority was cut by defections.

"I think the government did very good work over the past year. It's a shame the country has to be dragged into elections," said Defence Minister Benny Gantz, head of a centrist party in the coalition.

"But we will continue to function as a temporary government as much as possible," he said.

A date for the snap parliamentary election was not announced, but Israeli media reported it was likely to take place in October. (Reuters)