Israeli voters are participating in crucial parliamentary elections, likely to result in the firmer assertion of the ultra-right — setting the stage for a shaper contest in the future with the currently fragmented centre-left parties. As voters headed on Tuesday to polling stations that will stay open till 10 pm, opinion polls showed the emergence of peculiar phenomena: Benjamin Netanyahu, an established hawk by most counts, is expected to become Prime Minister for a third term; but his positions on domestic and foreign policy issues after elections are likely to become even more strident under the influence of the ultra-right parties that are expected to do well at the polls.

Drop in numbers

Unlike the previous round of balloting when Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu coalition coasted with 42 seats in the 120-member Knesset, numbers secured by the combine in the current elections are likely to drop between 32 and 35. Stealing some of the Likud-Beiteinu’s thunder is the ultra-right Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home) party and its leader Naftali Bennett.

The party believes that large parts of the occupied West Bank should be annexed, and the idea of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict should be firmly buried. It is set to get around 14 seats.

Mr. Bennet’s political assertion may put Mr. Netanyahu on the horns of a dilemma. Pulled in the direction of the extreme right on account of the growing influence of the Habayit Hayehudi, Mr. Netanyahu, already not on the best of terms with Washington, may risk his future relations with the Obama administration, now in its assertive second term.

By attempting to counter the right–wing lurch ignited by the Habayit Hayehudi, with the possible accommodation of centrist parties in his coalition, the Prime Minister, pulled by polarising forces, risks the formation of a dysfunctional government.

While many pundits see the rise of the ultra-right in Israel as the story of the 2013 elections, they may have spoken prematurely about the collapse of Israel’s centre-left parties. Opinion polls show that the Labour party is expected to secure 17 berths, the second highest, and double its current strength in the Knesset after the Likud- Beiteinu coalition.

Labour’s leader, Shelly Yachimovich, has rejected joining a Netanyahu-led coalition, focusing instead on an aspiration to topple the Prime Minister. The new secular centrist party, Yesh Atid, led by Yair Lapid, a TV personality and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s centrist Hatnua party are also expected to put up a decent fight, though neither of the two has ruled out participation in an alliance led by the Likud-Beiteinu.

Israel’s 2013 elections have been notable for the absence of big ticket issues, including the two-state solution of the Palestinian issue or the Iranian nuclear crisis. On the contrary domestic issues such as inflation, high housing costs and issues of social justice, brought into graphic prominence during the 2011 street protests have shaped the electoral battlefield.

Palestinians indifferent

Unsurprisingly, the Palestinians have been wearily indifferent to polls. Ahmad Amro, a professor at al-Quds Open University in Ramallah told Reuters: “Regardless of who wins, the result is the same: Israelis want this land but not the people.”

Despite predictions of political apathy and the low turnout, Israeli voters appeared to have turned up in larger numbers than the polls of 2009. Voting had touched the 38.3 per cent mark in by 2 pm on Tuesday, higher by four percentage points compared to 2009, and the highest since 1999.

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