Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s prospects for retaining power in Israel are looking uncertain after exit polls in the country’s fourth parliamentary election in two years projected yet another impasse.
With final results not due until later in the week, the forecasts on Wednesday indicated that even Netanyahu’s stewardship of a world-beating COVID-19 vaccination rollout – a showcase of his campaign – may not have been enough to propel the leader of the right-wing Likud party to victory.
Initial projections by Israel’s three main TV channels after Tuesday’s vote gave Netanyahu an edge, based on the potential support of an ultra-nationalist rival, Naftali Bennett, once his defence minister.
But amended forecasts indicated deadlock even with Bennett’s prospective backing, with the 120 seats in the parliament divided equally between Netanyahu’s likely opponents and supporters.
Israel’s opposition made a better showing than expected and support for Likud dipped, exit polls indicated, after Netanyahu’s critics highlighted corruption charges against the country’s longest-serving leader and accused him of mishandling the pandemic.
On social media, Netanyahu claimed a “huge victory” over the group of left-wing, centre and rightist parties trying to unseat him – even as the TV projections failed to bear that out.
He did not repeat the claim in an election night speech at a Likud rally, saying only that its projected number of seats in parliament, approximately 30, was “a great achievement” and that he hoped to form a “stable right-wing government”.
“The initial exit polls showed a slim majority in terms of a potential coalition for Netanyahu with just 61 of a 120 seats in the parliament meaning that he would have that majority. But those exit polls are shifting,” said Fawcett.
“One of them still gives him that slight slim lead. Another one puts it a 60-60 tie between the pro and anti-Netanyahu blocs. And the third, now gives Netanyahu a slight trail of 59-61.”
Israeli right’s ‘huge victory’
Unless coalition-building talks break a deadlock, voters could be heading towards a fifth election.
Bennett, whose far-right Yamina party was forecast to win seven seats, shares Netanyahu’s hardline nationalist ideology, including annexing parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and would seem to be more likely to ultimately join Netanyahu.