Israel’s incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed victory following exit polls showing him tied with opposition center-left Zionist Union led by Isaac Herzog in Tuesday’s parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile, leaders of the Zionist Union and other center-left parties said the right-wing celebrations are premature and urged the Israeli public to wait for real-time results to arrive in the next couple of hours.
The Zionist Union and the Likud are predicted to win 27 seats respectively in the 120-member parliament, according to the exit polls conducted by Israel’s Channel 1 and Channel 10. Another exit poll, conducted by Channel 2, gave the Likud one seat lead over the center-left Zionist Union, with the former winning 28 seats. “Against all odds, a great victory for the Likud, for the nationalist camp led by the Likud and the people of Israel,” Netanyahu wrote on his Twitter page Tuesday evening.
Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom of the Likud told reporters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday that the polls clearly show Netanyahu will continue to lead the state of Israel.
“I think the results are very strong and show that many Israelis decided to come and vote for the Likud and keep the national camp in power and not enable the left-wing to take power, ” Shalom said.
Netanyahu will “form a coalition in a short time” with his ” natural allies” and have a “strong coalition,” he added.
Israeli media outlets reported that Netanyahu contacted Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett in order to start negotiations to form a right-wing government.
Likud officials, however, were quoted by the Ha’aretz daily as saying that Netanyahu will try to form a unity government with the Zionist Union.
The center-left Zionist Union said that the Likud is misleading the public and trying to create an atmosphere to suit its needs.
“Likud keeps misleading the public,” the Zionist Union said in a statement. “The right-wing bloc has shrunk. Everything is possible until the real results are in, when we will know which parties passed the electoral threshold and which government we can form.”
“All the spins and statements are premature. A negotiations team has been formed in an effort to form a government led by Herzog,” the statement read.
Nachman Shai, a lawmaker of the Zionist Union, told reporters in Tel Aviv it is too early to draw conclusions.
“I’m pleased on the one hand that the Zionist Union doubled its power, it’s a major success. It may not be enough to form a government but it is too early to draw conclusions. We may build a coalition with other partners and prevent Netanyahu from forming one. Let’s wait and see for a few days before we make any conclusions,” he said.
The centrist Kulanu party, headed by Moshe Kahlon who is not committed to either blocs, won 9 to 10 seats and will be the tipping scale between a right wing and a center-left coalition. In a statement, Kahlon said Tuesday evening that he would decide his next moves only after the results are tallied in the next couple of days.
The exit polls also showed the Joint Arab List winning 12 to 13 seats in the parliament. The alliance was formed in January as the small Arab parties united as the electoral threshold would rise from 2 to 3.25 percent of the votes in early 2014.
Yair Lapid, whose center Yesh Atid party came in fourth with 11 to 12 seats, also affirmed his party’s performance.
“We went on this elections after a challenging term and bad polls early on. And here we are, the largest center party with a double digit number of seats, with the realization that we are here to stay and remain a political force for years to come,” Lapid.
According to the exit polls, the dovish bloc narrowly leads the hawkish bloc in the parliament, with 56-57 seats for the center- left camp and 54 seats for the right wing and ultra-Orthodox parties.
In the exit polls, 15,000 Israelis were interviewed out of 5.8 million eligible voters outside polling posts across the country. The results were released right after polls closed at 10 p.m. ( 2000 GMT).
Under Israel’s proportional representation system, voters vote for parties rather than individual candidates. The Prime Minister would be the one who could form a wide and stable coalition of at least 61 members, not necessarily those who won the majority of votes.