Israeli PM calls for early elections

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday called for early elections, suggesting he would seek a September vote instead of waiting until the scheduled October 2013 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 told a meeting of his Likud party in Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu's address, which included a laundry list of his achievements in government, failed to give a definitive date for the vote, which he is expected to comfortably win.

Israeli officials, including his coalition chairman Zeev Elkin, had earlier said there was consensus among most of the government on a September 4 date.

Netanyahu's address formally ended months of speculation about whether he would seek to bring forward the elections in a bid to bolster his position and capitalize on his popularity.

Polls show he commands more support than his next three rivals put together, with 48 percent of Israelis backing his re-election, according to one survey.

His Likud party is also projected to easily take the largest portion of the 120-seat Knesset, increasing its current standing and giving it a broad range of potential coalition partners from which to choose.

Commentators say there are both domestic and foreign policy motives behind Netanyahu's bid to move the vote up.

He is hoping to shore up his domestic support before the potential November re-election of US President Barack Obama, with whom he has clashed on the issue of Iran's nuclear program and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

But he also faces the prospect of implementing tough budget cuts later this year and has seen his coalition wobble over the issue of a law that allows ultra-Orthodox Jews to defer their military service.

-AFP/NOW Lebanon