Netanyahu era 'coming to an end,' says former ally Lapid

Netanyahu era 'coming to an end,' says former ally Lapid

JERUSALEM - The era of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is ending, with Israeli voters clearly more concerned about economic and social issues than about security or fears over Iran, a leading election candidate said on Monday.

The centre-left opposition is poised for a surprise victory over Netanyahu's right-wing Likud in one of Israel's most nail-biting elections in years, according to the last polls. Nearly six million Israelis are eligible to vote in Tuesday's election.

Yair Lapid, a telegenic former news anchor and TV host, leads the centrist, secular Yesh Atid party ("There's a Future"), which emerged out of the cost-of-living protests that swept Israel in 2011.

The party came a surprise second in the last election in 2013 and is again set for an influential showing.

"The majority of Israelis want change," Lapid, 51, told Reuters in between campaign events.

"The Netanyahu era is coming to an end. That's not because security issues don't matter but because social and economic issues are dominating the agenda," he said in an interview.

"Netanyahu has missed his moment. You can't blame him - it's never easy to know when the moment of your era passes. But for him it has passed."

Lapid was finance minister in Netanyahu's outgoing government but the two seldom saw eye-to-eye, and it was the dismissal of Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in December that precipitated these elections.

When Netanyahu called the vote he looked set to secure a fourth term in office, which would have put him on track to become the country's longest-serving prime minister.

But his focus on the threat from Iran's nuclear programme and Islamist militants in Gaza and the region left voters uninspired, with even long-running Likud supporters saying they had heard such rhetoric before.

Netanyahu's speech to the US Congress, criticised by many at home and in Washington, also appears to have marked something of a turning point. Before the speech, he was broadly ahead in opinion polls but his numbers have trailed off since, with his anti-Iran message failing to gain traction.

Final polls published on Friday nearly all showed the Zionist Union, the centre-left opposition alliance led by Isaac Herzog and Livni, holding a four-seat advantage going into the vote.

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