Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party is expected to win 30 to 33 seats (Image: IANS)
In an apparent blow to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, exit polls following Israel's general election suggest the result is too close to call. This is the second time in five months that Israel has voted in a general election. However, the results were too close to call early Wednesday, with neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his main rival, the former army chief Benny Gantz immediately commanding enough support to form a majority coalition, according to exit polls. With no clear winners, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman looks set to become the kingmaker. Liberman is only ready to support a unity coalition.
According to exit polls, Gantz's centrist Blue and White alliance of is projected to win between 32 and 34 seats while PM Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party 30 to 33 seats. These results leave no candidate with a clear path to forming a government, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s future as prime minister far from secure.
Too Close To Call
According to unofficial results by an Israeli news channel, Likud and Blue and White are tied at 32 seats; Joint List have 12 seats; Shas and Yisrael Beytenu have 9 seats each; United Torah Judaism has 8; Yamina has 7; Labor-Gesher is at 6; and the Democratic Camp has 5.
This means the right-wing bloc favouring Netanyahu has a total of 56 seats, the center-left has 55 and Liberman has 9.
Neither bloc is looking like reaching the magical figure of 61 in the 120-member Knesset (Israeli Parliament), making the possibility of a unity government the most likely one.
Liberman Becomes Kingmaker
Liberman, who has earlier served as Foreign and Defence Minister in Netanyahu led government's, has emerged the kingmaker as per the exit polls. The ultra-nationalist leader has made it clear that he will back a unity government with or without his party's inclusion.
Yisrael Beteinu had recommended Netanyahu's name to the President for Prime Minister after the April 9 polls, but refused to join a coalition government under him on the question of draft exemption for ultra-orthodox Jews.
The Israeli Prime Minister could not muster a coalition of 61 members without Yisrael Beteinu, leading to an unprecedented repeat polls on Tuesday. Ultra-orthodox Jews backed parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, were Netanyahu's important coalition partners.
Netanyahu, Gantz Look To Build Coalition
Netanyahu took to the ruling Likud party stage late on Wednesday, vowing to create a "strong Zionist government" and thwart the formation of a "dangerous anti-Zionist" government.
"We will protect this country," he asserted.
He started by saying, "As you see, I am hoarse", drawing cheers from the crowd, "and as you know, it's better to lose your voice than to lose the country".
"I said the election was hard. That's not the word ....We faced a campaign that was so tilted against us by the biased media, so against us," he said.
"We're still waiting for the results. But one thing is clear, the State of Israel is at a historic turning point. We are facing immense opportunities, and immense challenges... including the existential threat from Iran," Netanyahu emphasised.
He praised the soaring Israeli economy and flourishing diplomatic relations, mentioned US President Donald Trump's expected peace plan and stressed that Israel needs "a strong government, a stable government, a Zionist government, a government that is committed to Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people".
There cannot be a government that relies on the anti-Zionist Arab parties, he said adding, "parties that praise and glorify blood-thirsty terrorists who kill our soldiers, our citizens, our children".
Both Netanyahu and Gantz started reaching out to prospective coalition partners soon after the polls ended.
Gantz has also been careful in his post-election address, shying away from declaring victory and has called for unity and national healing.
Joint Unity List Make Big Gains
The big winner of the repeat polls seem to be the Arab population-backed Joint Unity List which is expected to win between 10 and 12 seats with the voter turnout in the Arab sector registering a significant increase from April 9 polls.
A little less than 50 per cent of the eligible Arab voters had participated in the previous elections, but with unity forged between various Arab factions, it soared by almost 13 per cent this time, Election Commission sources said.
With apparent no clear winner and counting moving slowly and significant trends likely to come around Wednesday afternoon, focus has shifted towards President Reuven Rivlin who has vowed to prevent yet another polls by looking at all the possibilities to put a government together.
(With PTI Inputs)