STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It's Election Day in Israel, which is the fourth time we're saying that in two years. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest serving prime minister, keeps fighting for his job. Although, he is also on trial facing corruption charges. Now he's campaigning on the success of Israel's fast vaccine rollout. NPR's Daniel Estrin went out to the polls today. He's covering this election as he's covered several before. Daniel, good morning.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: Or I guess I should say good afternoon in your time zone. Why does Israel keep holding elections?
ESTRIN: It's because the country is paralyzed. Netanyahu, as you said, is on trial for corruption. He's no longer able to convince a majority of lawmakers to join him in a coalition. And then, on the other hand, the opposition has not been strong enough to unseat him. The system here does not force a winner. So here, that's where we are. Netanyahu's party is expected to win the most seats in parliament. But that's not enough for him to have a majority there. There are a lot of parties running in this election. So you have to form a coalition with other parties to have a majority. And the country is stuck. You got Netanyahu's diehard supporters on one hand and those who can't stand him after so many years in power on the other hand.
INSKEEP: Netanyahu does seem to unify a lot of elements of the right wing behind his leadership. Is the opposition unified?
ESTRIN: It is not. And that is why it's going to be so hard to see the opposition beating Netanyahu in this election. There are a bunch of opposition parties on the left, centrists, Arabs, some right-wing parties even, former allies of Netanyahu. They all want to beat Netanyahu. But they don't really have much else in common. They don't agree on ideology. They don't agree on who should be the prime minister.
INSKEEP: So what are you hearing when you go around to polling places?
ESTRIN: I'm hearing a lot of weariness. Even if it's people who support Netanyahu, who do not, they are voting a fourth time in just under two years. And they're weary. But a lot of voters feel - and the polls reflect this - that Netanyahu has the momentum this time. And what could make the difference is the vaccine. Netanyahu convinced Pfizer to have Israel be the place for an early vaccine rollout. Israel's had more per capita vaccinations than anyone else in the world. And the economy has reopened just a couple of weeks ago. So let's listen to some voters. Dov Rosenthal Young (ph), vaccinated. He supports Netanyahu.
DOV ROSENTHAL YOUNG: I'm really proud with Netanyahu. He did a great job. Our economy, it's the first place in the world that we come back. And it's really important that we have, like, the vaccines and everything.
ESTRIN: And then, Yael Drori (ph), she doesn't support Benjamin Netanyahu. He - she calls him by his nickname, Bibi. Let's listen.
YAEL DRORI: Deep in my stomach, I feel that Bibi will win again, whereas his opponents are not as experienced. They don't have all the tricks.
ESTRIN: And the trick that Netanyahu pulled this time, she says, is that instead of antagonizing Palestinian Arab citizens and voters, this time, he actually campaigned in Arabic. And he courted their vote. And that could help him.
INSKEEP: And I guess the very fact of the widespread vaccination explains why you were able to find people at polling stations rather than - I don't know - mailing it in or something like they would in the U.S.
ESTRIN: That's right. There actually isn't voting - mail-in voting here. But Israel has set up free shuttle service for COVID-19 patients to get to designated polling places. All of those votes, it will take a long time to count them. So we might not have a real tally and a sense of who won until, maybe, the end of this week.
INSKEEP: Daniel, thanks for the update.
ESTRIN: You're welcome, Steve.
INSKEEP: NPR's Daniel Estrin on Israel's latest election.
(SOUNDBITE OF AVISHAI COHEN'S "MEDITERRANEAN SUN")
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