Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks set to sail to an easy victory in early general elections likely to take place in September, a series of polls showed on Thursday.
The Israeli leader is riding high in the polls, with surveys putting him far ahead of his rivals for prime minister and showing his Likud party will increase their parliamentary standing to become the biggest party in the 120-seat Knesset.
The latest polls come after days of speculation about the prospect of early elections, which had been scheduled for October 2013. The head of Netanyahu’s coalition said Wednesday that consensus had been reached on a September 4 date.
A poll published in Haaretz newspaper showed 48 percent of Israelis back Netanyahu’s re-election, giving him more support than all three of his rivals combined.
Labour party leader Shelly Yachimovich trails with 15 percent support, while nine percent of respondents thought Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, head of the ultra-nationalist Israel Beitenu party, was the best candidate for premier.
Just six percent backed Shaul Mofaz, the new chief of the once-powerful Kadima opposition party which has seen its fortunes decline since the last election and is slated to lose more than half its seats in the next vote.
A poll published in Jerusalem Post daily said Likud could win 31 seats, up from the 27 it now holds, with Labour increasing its standing to 17 seats from 13, but still trailing Netanyahu’s faction.
Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu stands to lose two seats, taking it to 13, while the newly-formed Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party would win 12 seats, the poll said.
Kadima stands to be the biggest loser, with its 28 seats reduced to just 10.
A third poll, published by the Maariv daily, produced similar figures, putting Likud at 31 seats, Labour at 18, Israel Beitenu at 12, and Kadima and Yesh Atid at 11 seats each.
The Independence party formed by former Labour head and current Defence Minister Ehud Barak is forecast to win no seats, though analysts have suggested Netanyahu may seek to keep Barak on in his post, over Likud objections.
The shape of any future coalition remains unclear.
Labour, Kadima and Yesh Atid have expressed willingness to join a Netanyahu government, but he could also choose to bring in smaller, right-wing and religious parties.
Netanyahu, who is observing the traditional mourning period after the death of his father, is expected to make a formal announcement advancing the election at a Likud meeting on Sunday.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu’s coalition chairman Zeev Elkin said a motion had been tabled calling for the election to be held on September 4.
“The consensus of most of the coalition parties and part of the opposition is that the election will take place on September 4,” he told Israeli public radio.
Speculation about an early vote has been rife for months, with commentators saying Netanyahu was likely to try to capitalise on his popularity before US polls and tough domestic budget cuts to be implemented later this year.
He is also facing tension in his coalition over the so-called Tal Law, which has allowed ultra-Orthodox Jews to defer their service in the Israeli military.
The law is expiring and Lieberman’s secular party wants it completely overhauled, over the opposition of the religious parties in Netanyahu’s government.