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Voters cast ballots in Israeli parliamentary election

Voting is under way in national elections to determine Israel's next parliament. The outcome will determine if Benjamin Netanyahu continues as the country's prime minister.

Polls opened across Israel on Tuesday with more than 5.8 million voters eligible to cast ballots to elect the next parliament. The election will determine if incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will continue in his role or will make way for a new leader after six years in office. This is the second time in three years that Israelis have participated in a snap general election.

Final opinion polls published late last week put the centrist Zionist Union ahead with 25-26 seats, with Netanyahu's Likud taking 20-22 in the 120-seat Knesset.

Too close to call

Experts say, however, that

neither party looks likely to win a governing majority

, possibly handing the decision to two centrist parties, Yesh Atid and Kulanu.

Analysts say this is where Netanyahu has the advantage, as it would be easier for his right-wing party to form a coalition with other conservative and hardline parties.

Netanyahu has ruled out the establishment of a Palestinian state if he is re-elected.

He has also taken a tough stance on Iran, saying recently in a

speech before the US Congress

that making a deal based on allowing Iran to keep its nuclear infrastructure and relying on international monitors would "spark a nuclear arms race" in the "most dangerous part of the planet." It is a position that has

put him at odds with the White House

, which favors reaching a deal with Iran to keep its nuclear ambitions in check.

Avoiding Italy

Ahead of Tuesday's poll, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said that if there is no clear winner he would meet with both candidates and discuss forming a national unity government.

If both sides can't agree on political and socio-economic issues, he said that they should at least work to reform the country's electoral system, so that Israel doesn't "turn into Italy" and hold early elections every two years.

Both Netanyahu and Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog oppose the election reform plan.

Polls close in Israel later on Tuesday, with preliminary results expected Wednesday and final results expected on March 25.

mz/rc (AFP, AP, dpa)

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