Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed a “huge win” for the right in Israel’s fourth election in two years, though exit polls suggest he may fail to secure a majority in parliament.
Netanyahu’s Likud party and its allies are projected to get 53 or 54 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, according to the BBC.
Parties opposed to the prime minister look set to win 59.
It means the nationalist Yamina party led by former Netanyahu loyalist Naftali Bennett could act as kingmaker. It is forecast to win seven or eight seats and has not explicitly declared which side it will support.
“I will do only what is good for the state of Israel,” Bennett said in a statement after the exit polls were released.
He added that he had told Netanyahu that Yamina would await the final results before deciding on its next steps.
Israel’s Central Elections Committee does not expect all of the votes to be counted before Wednesday afternoon due to coronavirus-related restrictions.
“Israeli citizens – thank you,” Netanyahu tweeted late on Tuesday. “You gave a huge win to the right and Likud under my leadership. Likud is the biggest party by far. It’s clear most Israelis are right-wing, and want a strong, stable right-wing government.”
Just over 67% of those eligible cast their ballots in the election, which was widely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu’s leadership.
The 71-year-old prime minister has been in power continuously since 2009, having served an earlier three-year term in the late 1990s.
His campaign focused on Israel’s world-leading Covid-19 vaccination programme and his diplomatic success in normalising ties with some Arab countries.
But his opponents from across the political spectrum argued that he should not remain in office while standing trial on corruption charges. He denies any wrongdoing.
After the previous three elections neither Netanyahu nor his rivals were able to form a stable governing coalition.
The current national unity government, which was the result of a power-sharing deal with Defence Minister Benny Gantz, collapsed in December after just seven months.
Gantz, whose Blue and White party is projected by the exit polls to win seven seats, said on Tuesday that he would “do everything I can to unite a pro-change bloc” – a reference to those wanting a new prime minister.