Netanyahu vows to form broad coalition || Israel's right, left blocs in dead heat as 99% of votes tallied
Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu claimed 31 seats, Yesh Atid 19, Labor 15, Shas 11, Habayit Hayehudi 11, United Torah Judaism 7, Hatnuah 6, Meretz 6, United Arab List-Ta’al 5, Balad 3, and Kadima likely to win 2 seats.
Hours after polls closed on Tuesday, and after 99 percent of the votes were tallied, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed a mandate to third term as premier, but the battle between the country's right- and left-wing blocs remained virtually in a dead heat.
As voting ended Tuesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu party garnered only 31 seats − compared to the 42 the two parties won in the last election in 2009 − prompting him to announce that he was already working toward forming “as broad a government as possible."
"I am proud to be your prime minister and I thank you for giving me the opportunity, for the third time, to lead the State of Israel," Netanyahu said after midnight. "It is a great honor, but it is also a great responsibility. It is an opportunity to make changes that the citizens of Israel wish upon themselves and that will serve all the citizens of Israel. I intend on making those changes by forming the broadest coalition possible, and I have begun working toward that tonight."
Leading up to the election, polls had predicted a tight race between the left and right blocs, but by early Wednesday the former had 59 seats, and the latter 61.
As of 4 A.M. Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu claimed 31 seats in the next Knesset. The count for the rest of the parties was as follows: Yesh Atid 19, Labor 15, Shas 11, Habayit Hayehudi 11, United Torah Judaism 7, Hatnuah 6, Meretz 6, United Arab List-Ta’al 5, Balad 3, and Kadima teetering on the verge of the electoral threshold with 2 seats.
Though the regular ballots are tallied, the final results will only be published later this week because of the time needed to count the double envelope ballots, used by people who did not vote at their regular polling stations: soldiers, patients in hospitals, doctors and nurses on call, prisoners, police officers and prison guards, polling booth secretaries, disabled people and overseas government personnel.
The final election results will only be submitted next Wednesday, which places some restraints on President Shimon Peres consulting party leaders about whom he should ask to form the next coalition. However, sources in the President’s Residence say he prefers not to wait that long and is likely to ask Netanyahu to form the next government by the end of this week.
However, Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich said she had already initiated contacts aimed at forming a center-left bloc to prevent Netanyahu remaining prime minister.
“I will do everything in my power − in fact, I have already got the wheels in motion − to create a coalition of parties with a shared social and economic agenda, which will also kick-start the peace process," Yacimovich said. "We have an opportunity here that we cannot miss to liberate the citizens of Israel from the abuse of the Netanyahu government. Since the fate of Israeli society is hanging in the balance, we must act quickly, discretely and seriously."
In the biggest surprise of this election, the centrist Yesh Atid party, headed by political newcomer Yair Lapid, captured 19 seats, well above the forecasts. That positions Lapid to become either opposition leader or to seek a major cabinet post if he decides to join Netanyahu’s probable governing coalition.
Meanwhile, the national religious Habayit Hayehudi party, headed by Naftali Bennett, the rising star of Israeli politics before Lapid stole his thunder, garnered 11 seats − on the low side compared with public opinion surveys.