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Benny Gantz elected as Israeli parliament speaker

Published : 26 Mar 2020, 21:34

Updated : 26 Mar 2020, 21:36

  DF-Xinhua Report

Benny Gantz speaks during a rally at the Blue and White party election campaign headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel, on March 3, 2020. File Photo Xinhua.

Benny Gantz, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's main rival, was selected on Thursday as the parliament's speaker amid an emerging deal on a unity government with Netanyahu.

   Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, was backed by 74 lawmakers, while 18 lawmakers voted against him and 28 abstained, the spokesperson's office of the parliament, or Knesset, said in a statement.

   In his first speech as the speaker, addressing an empty planum hall due to the COVID-19 crisis, Gantz said he is "trying every possible way to advance an emergency unity government" with Netanyahu's Likud.

   The emerging unity deal has caused a rift in Blue and White, an alliance of three factions, leading to its apparent break up on Thursday. Two of Gantz's senior partners announced they oppose a unity government with Netanyahu as its prime minister, due to the looming corruption trial of the long-time leader. Netanyahu is facing charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate criminal cases.

   The two, Yair Lapid, a former finance minister, and Moshe Yaalon, a former defense minister, had officially requested the Knesset to split Blue and White and form instead two separate factions.

   Gantz vowed "to bring back the Knesset to normal and routine functioning," referring to the shutdown imposed by his predecessor, Yuli Edelstein. Edelstein, a Netanyahu ally, halted parliamentary work for about a week in order to avoid a vote for the selection of his replacement. On Wednesday, Edelstein resigned, bluntly defying a Supreme Court decision ordering him to hold the vote.

   The moves came amid unprecedented political turmoil and as the nation is struggling to halt the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus.

   Israel's political arena has been paralyzed over the past year due to three consecutive rounds of elections that produced inconclusive results in less than a year. Both Gantz's centrist Blue and White party and Netanyahu's rightwing Likud party did not gain enough votes to form a government coalition.