(Adds Bennett statement)
JERUSALEM, June 29 (Reuters) – Israel was headed on Wednesday toward its fifth election in less than four years, plunging it deeper into political uncertainty as it grapples with rising living costs amid renewed international efforts to revive a nuclear deal with Iran.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced he would not run in the upcoming election but would retain his position as alternate prime minister after his coalition partner Yair Lapid takes over as head of the interim government.
“I leave behind a thriving, strong and secure country,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “We proved this year that people with very different opinions can work together,” he added, referring to his ideologically diverse coalition.
Last week, Bennett moved to dissolve parliament after infighting made his ruling coalition no longer tenable. The Knesset set a deadline for midnight on Wednesday for a final vote to dissolve.
Once the calling of a snap election gets the Knesset’s final approval, Israel’s centre-left foreign minister, Yair Lapid, will take over from Bennett as prime minister of a caretaker government with limited powers.
But even with lawmakers grappling over the exact election date, either Oct. 25 or Nov. 1, the campaign has already become dominated by the possible comeback of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Lapid and Bennett ended Netanyahu’s record 12-year reign a year ago by forming a rare alliance of rightists, liberals and Arab parties, which lasted longer than many expected but faltered in recent weeks amid infighting.
Netanyahu, now opposition leader, has been delighted by the end of what he has called the worst government in Israel’s history. He hopes to win a sixth term in office despite being on trial for corruption on charges he denies.
Surveys have shown his right-wing Likud party leading the polls but still short of a governing majority despite support of allied religious and nationalist parties.
Lawmakers from the pro-Netanyahu bloc have said they were working to form a new government before parliament dissolves. That scenario, which appears remote, would scupper an early election. (Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Henriette Chacar; Editing by Robert Birsel and Aurora Ellis)