Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, has indicated that he would seek a new general election in September, a year ahead of schedule.
In an address to his Likud party in Tel Aviv on Sunday evening, Netanyahu called for the vote to be brought forward from October 2013 but stopped short of declaring an exact date.
"I don't want there to be a year-and-a-half of political instability accompanied by blackmail and populism. I'd prefer a short electoral campaign of four months that will ensure political stability," he said at the meeting.
The decision has ended months of speculation about early polls, and formally confirm the early election date mooted by Israeli officials, including Zeev Elkin, Netanyahu's coalition chairman .
Observers had long suggested Netanyahu would seek to bolster his standing ahead of major budget cuts expected later this year and the US presidential election in November.
Polls show that the premier could hardly have picked a better time to seek re-election, with surveys showing he easily outstrips his rivals for the office of prime minister.
A poll published in the Haaretz daily on Thursday showed Netanyahu has more support than his next three rivals put together, with 48 per cent of Israelis backing his re-election.
His Likud party also looks set to sweep the polls, increasing its standing in the 120-seat Knesset and having its choice of parties with which to form a coalition.
Polls, including a latest survey published by the Maariv daily on Friday, consistently show Likud netting around 31 seats, up from the 27 it currently holds.
The Maariv poll showed the Labour party taking 18 seats, up from the 13 it won in the last elections, with Yisrael Beitenu seeing its 15 seats fall to 12.
The Kadima party, which won the most seats in the last election but failed to form a coalition, looks set for a crushing defeat, with its 28 seats reduced to just 11.
The newly-formed centrist Yesh Atid party is also expected to win around 11 seats.
The biggest uncertainty surrounding the vote is the shape of Netanyahu's eventual coalition. Polls show the smaller conservative and religious parties he is in government with now will win enough seats to rejoin him in power if he
But Labour, Kadima and Yesh Atid have also expressed some willingness to join a new government led by Netanyahu.
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|William A. Cook|
|Timothy V. Gatto|
|Allen L. Jasson|