December 25, 2018 / 9:29 AM / 9 months ago

Easy Netanyahu win predicted in first poll since Israel election set

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will easily win a snap election set for April 9, according to an opinion poll on Tuesday, the first to be published since the ballot was announced.

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony whereby Amir Yaron is sworn in as Bank of Israel governor, in Jerusalem December 24, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

Netanyahu announced the early election on Monday, appealing directly to voters for a fresh political mandate that could help him weather possible charges in corruption investigations. An election had not been due until November 2019.

The survey, published in Israel’s Maariv newspaper, showed Netanyahu’s Likud party winning 30 of parliament’s 120 seats, the same number it took in the last election in 2015, and a governing majority for a Likud-led right-wing coalition bloc.

The closest challenger, the poll said, was a hypothetical party led by former Israeli army chief Benny Gantz, who has been widely touted as a potential center-left candidate.

Gantz has not publicly declared a political affiliation or any intention to run. The center-left Yesh Atid party led by Yair Lapid came in third in the survey, with 12 seats compared with 11 in the current parliament.

Netanyahu is enmeshed in three graft cases and denies any wrongdoing. He is awaiting a decision by Israel’s attorney-general on whether to accept police recommendations to bring criminal charges against him.

The indictment decision had been expected within weeks, but some Israeli media reports said the attorney general could opt to delay the move out of concern he might influence the outcome of the election.

The Justice Ministry said on Monday, after the early election was announced, that work on the cases would continue “independent of political events”.

Commentary accompanying the Maariv poll said that if Netanyahu wins the election, he should be able to able to fulfill a pledge he made on Monday to form a right-wing government similar to the one he currently leads.

The poll predicted that Netanyahu, now in his fourth term, could control at least 63 parliamentary seats, two more than his coalition now holds. It surveyed 502 Israeli Jews and Arabs and had a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points.

Other recent polls have shown Netanyahu has remained popular among Israelis despite the investigations against him.

Netanyahu has focused in recent speeches on what he called his main achievements in meeting security challenges posed by Iran and Palestinian militants, building a strong economy and pursuing diplomatic outreach with Arab states in the Gulf that share Israel’s concerns about Tehran.

Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Gareth Jones

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