Outrage as Israel plans CCTV in polling stations 'to cut voter fraud'
The Israeli government has sparked outrage with draft legislation to use cameras for monitoring polling stations in Israel's election next week, a move opponents said was effectively meant to intimidate Arab voters.
Fighting for political survival after an inconclusive ballot in April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made voter fraud a key issue in his campaign for a fifth term, cautioning that victory could be stolen from him in what polls show to be a close race.
In the previous election, Mr Netanyahu's Likud party sent monitors with body cameras to several polling stations with Arab constituents in what Arab politicians described as voter intimidation.
On election days in Israel, representatives of most parties sit at venues to check the pre-vote identification process. Voters are then handed an envelope and go behind a screen to cast their ballot.
Mr Netanyahu said that under the legislation, which will go to Parliament for approval before the September 17 election, monitors will be able to use their phone cameras to record just outside of the actual voting booth.
"Everyone films," Mr Netanyahu said. "Any shop is filmed by cameras, so the polling stations are the only places where you can't film?"
However, Mr Netanyahu pledged: "The secrecy of the vote will be strictly preserved."
Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Joint List party, said Mr Netanyahu's focus on the issue of voter fraud was aimed at "triggering a panic vote" by his supporters on the right and "suppressing the Arab vote".
"(Netanyahu) is preparing the ground for the day he declares, 'Arabs have stolen the elections', and contests the results if he loses," Mr Odeh said.
Yair Lapid, co-leader of the centrist Blue and White party, which is running neck-and-neck with Likud in polls, described the bill as "racist" in comments on Twitter.
Arabs make up 21pc of Israel's population and generally vote not for Likud but for their own Arab parties or centrist or left-wing Jewish parties.
The proposed bill was opposed by the head of the Central Election Commission that oversees the vote, who said the last-minute introduction of cameras might "lead to chaos".
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit also came out against the legislation, saying it could violate laws ensuring voters' privacy.