Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and his minority government faced a new threat Monday as Israel's High Court began hearing a legal challenge by the right-wing Likud opposition party that could usher in fresh elections.
Likud is seeking a ruling on parliamentary procedure, which could make it easier to pass a bill calling for early elections.
A first reading of the bill, which was approved in a preliminary vote in August, is due in parliament on Tuesday. It was not known Monday if the court would issue its verdict by then.
Likud -- led by the hawkish Ariel Sharon -- has filed a petition with the court asking that the bill require only a simple majority of those present to pass on its first reading, rather than an absolute majority of 61 out of the Knesset's 120 members.
Although the bill would need another two readings before becoming law, a vote in favor of early elections would deal a crushing blow to Barak, who has been struggling to form an emergency broader-based government to deal with a two-month tide of deadly violence between Israel and the Palestinians.
Barak, whose government has just 30 seats in a 120-member parliament, has been on political tenterhooks for almost five months.
On Sunday, he said early elections would be "irresponsible" now, renewing calls for a government of national unity.
"We need a national emergency government to fight together and early elections would be irresponsible in the current situation," Barak told Israeli radio – JERUSALEM (AFP)
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