TV news anchor joins the political fray

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The Independent Online

One of Israel's most popular television personalities quit the news business yesterday to start his own political party, a move that could shake up the Israeli political system by energising opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Yair Lapid is a best-selling author and columnist who has anchored Channel 2's top-rated weekend news edition for the past four years. Polls show that Mr Lapid, 48, would do well, particularly with secular voters. A poll conducted late last week by Israel Radio said a Lapid-led party could win 15 seats in the 120-seat parliament if elections were held now. That could make it the second-largest party after Mr Netanyahu's Likud.

Elections are set for late 2013, but in Israel's parliamentary system governments rarely serve their full terms, and analysts believe elections could take place this year. Mr Lapid's image as a secularist seems likely to have boosted his poll results, as Israel is in the throes of controversy over efforts by ultra-Orthodox Jews in some places to impose their strict lifestyles on less observant Israeli Jews. Little is known of Mr Lapid's political views. But he portrays himself as a reasonable and pragmatic common man, patriotic yet critical of the government and sympathetic to social issues. Such views could make him attractive to centrist Israeli voters.