Jerusalem: Israel`s hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to win a third term with a thumping mandate for his rightwing coalition in general elections amid voter apathy and disarray in centre-left parties.
Polls for 120-member Knesset (Israeli Parliament) opened early this morning and will close late at night.
The Central Elections Committee announced that 38.3 per cent of Israelis had voted by 2 pm, compared to 30.9 per cent at the same point in 2006. The figure is much higher than voter turnout at the same hour in the last general elections in 2009.
63-year-old Netanyahu, accompanied by his wife Sara and his two sons Yair and Avner, cast his ballot early at the Paula Ben Gurion School in Jerusalem.
Amid the impressive voter turnout, Netanyahu expressed concern over relatively low turnout in traditional Likud Party dominated neighbourhoods and called on supporters to "leave everything and go vote".
"There are reports that in regions that have traditionally been Likud strongholds, turnout has been lower than the national average," Netanyahu said during a visit to Ashdod. "I therefore call on all generations of Likud voters to leave everything and go vote."
Earlier, all the opinion polls conducted by leading newspapers and agencies have predicted victory for the right bloc led by Netanyahu.
Some 5.65 million Israelis are eligible to vote in the parliamentary elections and over 20,000 security personnel have been deployed to secure the vote.
The hawkish leader`s possible return is being seen as a bad omen for prospects of resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians that may lead to Israel`s increased international isolation.
Netanyahu, who came under severe international criticism for the deadlock in peace talks with the Palestinians over the issue of settlements, has centred his campaign on success in pushing the Iranian nuclear threat to the top of the global agenda and keeping the Jewish state`s economy relatively stable despite a worldwide recession.