Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secured a solid victory in the parliamentary elections held on Monday.
“Thank you,” he tweeted minutes after the exit polls were published.
With 37 seats in the exit polls, the Likud took the lead against its main rival Blue and White party led by political new-comer Benny Gantz.
However, in order to form a government, Netanyahu needs a 61-seat majority of the 120 seats in the parliament.
Exit polls showed he is one seat shy of this, leading the right-wing bloc with 60 seats. Any shift in the official results, expected in the coming days, has the potential of changing the picture completely.
“This shows the Israeli society is largely right-wing and that Blue and White did not succeed in creating an alternative,” said Eran Vigoda-Gadot, a professor of political science and governance at the University of Haifa.
“Gantz did not successfully position himself as counter-weight to a very dominant Netanyahu,” he added.
It was the third general election held in Israel within one year, after two previous ones yielded inconclusive results, causing a year-long political stalemate.
“The right wing in Israel rallied and came to the polls because they felt it was all or nothing,” Vigoda-Gadot told Xinhua.
Voter turnout was unexpectedly high, in contrast with the projected voter fatigue as Israelis headed to the polls for the third time. According to the Central Elections Committee, it was the highest turnout numbers in Israel since 1999.
As Israel’s longest serving prime minister, Netanyahu’s last few years in office have been marred by scandal and alleged corruption. In two weeks’ time, he will make his first court appearance as a defendant indicted for fraud, breach of trust and bribery.
Netanyahu’s opponents say he wants to use his service as prime minister to avoid a conviction in the courts as he may find other legal ways to circumvent the courts if secures a majority in the parliament.
It is worth noting that although it is still unclear whether Netanyahu will be able to seize the majority, chances for another election seem slim.
“There will not be a fourth election, as Netanyahu will probably be able to find one person to form a government,” said Jonathan Rynhold, a professor with the political science department at the Bar Ilan University.
Still hanging in the balance is Avigdor Lieberman, the kingmaker who has not committed his seats to any side, as exit polls show he gained 6-8 seats.
Once Netanyahu’s ally and a staunch right-winger, Lieberman has taken a turn to the center by saying he refuses to sit with Jewish Orthodox parties that are Netanyahu’s main allies.
Official final results are expected to be released early Tuesday morning, before President Reuven Rivlin will choose a candidate for prime minister according to the number of recommendations from the party leaders.
This is usually bestowed upon the head of the largest party who has six weeks to form a coalition.
If the candidate is unsuccessful, another candidate will have 28 days to attempt to form a government. Should that fail, Israel will head to elections once again.
Source: by Keren Setton /Xinhua