Israel election results: Netanyahu ahead in exit polls – The Guardian

Israel

Ruling Likud party leading but short of decisive parliamentary majority to end political deadlock

Tue 23 Mar 2021 17.27 EDT

Exit polls from Israel’s fourth election within two years suggested Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party was ahead but still short of a clear parliamentary majority needed to form a government and end the political deadlock.

Unofficial figures from three major television channels released late on Tuesday evening showed the Likud party with around 31-33 seats in the 120-seat parliament, the Knesset. That was far more than the opposition head, Yair Lapid, predicted to take about 16-18 seats.


However, post-voting polls have proved unreliable in the past. Critically, to form a 61-seat majority coalition, Netanyahu will need to convince other parties to join him. Political negotiations could fail, possibly resulting in an unwanted fifth election this summer.

Reacting to the exit poll results, Netanyahu stopped short of declaring victory, but said voters had expressed a noticeable ideological preference. “It is clear that a clear majority of Israeli citizens are right wing,” he said on Twitter.

In an election night speech at a Likud rally he said the party’s projected number of seats in parliament was “a great achievement” and that he hoped to form a “stable right-wing government”.

“I will reach out to all elected officials who share our principles. I will not exclude anyone,” he told supporters.


The prime minister has hoped voters will credit him for a world-beating coronavirus vaccination campaign that has led to Israel reopening shops, bars and restaurants while simultaneously pushing down infection rates.

“We are the world champions in handling the coronavirus,” Netanyahu told crowds in the run-up to the vote.

At a polling station in Jerusalem, when asked who she wanted to win, voter Sima Levy said, using his nickname: “Always for Bibi Netanyahu”. The 58-year-old real estate broker added: “What he has done for us and still does, he gives himself for the country … I think he is protected by God.”

The politician’s preferred path to victory would be what is being called a “full rightwing government”, composed of extreme nationalist, hardline religious and far-right parties.


Allies from ultra-Orthodox Jewish factions would be relied on for support, such as Aryeh Deri, who said on Sunday it was not a woman’s “natural place” to be a candidate in the party, Shas, which he leads .

The prime minister might also need backing from a group seen as even more extreme – an alliance called Religious Zionism, which includes politicians who have expressed anti-gay views and want to expel “disloyal” Arabs from the state.

Israel’s most prominent left-leaning paper, Haaretz, has called this potential outcome a “nightmare” for “anyone who isn’t a nationalist extremist who believes in Jewish supremacy”.

While most Israelis say they want Netanyahu out, he remains extremely popular compared with other candidates, despite facing multiple corruption charges, including bribery and fraud. He denies the charges.


Perhaps fatigued after repeated rounds of voting during a protracted crisis, or possibly due to the unusually dusty hot weather, turnout this year appeared to have dropped to its lowest level in over a decade.

Shortly after he voted, Robert Rosenschein, 67, who lives in Jerusalem, said the political stalemate had created apathy with the political process. “There’s more exhaustion than usual because you also have Covid fatigue,” he added.

In opposition, Lapid, a former TV host and finance minister, hoped his Yesh Atid party can become a significant force. However, to do that, the self-proclaimed “centrist” will probably have to forge alliances with parties from across the political spectrum, from Arab parliamentarians to far-right nationalists, such as former Netanyahu ally Avigdor Lieberman.


Lapid has taken the role of head of the opposition from Benny Gantz, a former army chief who fought Netanyahu during the past three elections but who lost support after he made a power-sharing deal that ultimately collapsed. Exit polls showed Gantz was predicted to take only around 7-8 seats, down from 33 in the last election a year ago.

More than 6.3 million people were eligible to vote. For election day, the military closed crossings with the occupied West Bank, where more than 2.5 million Palestinians live under Israeli rule but cannot vote.

The full results could take days to come in.

Matti Tuchfeld, a commentator for the Israel Hayom daily newspaper, said there were large uncertainties around this election.

Israeli law dictates that parties need a minimum of 3.25% of all votes to even enter the Knesset, meaning that fractional changes in ballots could sway the results in significant ways.

“Nobody knows what is going to happen this time,” he wrote. “The election results are definitely unpredictable. Only one thing is clear: we should not be surprised if we ultimately are very surprised.”

Q&A

What is happening?

Israelis voted on Tuesday in the country’s fourth national election in less than two years.

Why would they do that?

Under the country’s political system, it is extremely difficult for a party to win an outright majority in the 120-seat parliament, the Knesset. In the past, governments have been formed by parties grouping to make a coalition. However, recent attempts keep breaking apart.

How come?

It depends on who you ask, and there is certainly an element of bad luck about it. Still, the fissures that have kept Israel in limbo all relate to one man: Benjamin Netanyahu. The country’s longest-serving leader has become a sticking point due to his domestic divisiveness, being both adored and detested.

How did the previous three votes go?

“King Bibi”, as he is known, appeared to beat former army chief and opposition leader Benny Gantz in the first election in April 2019 but was blocked from forming a government by a disgruntled former ally, the far-right nationalist Avigdor Lieberman. The next election saw Netanyahu and Gantz in a virtual tie and both torpedoed each other’s run for power. A third vote did end in a government, a compromise in which Netanyahu and Gantz agreed to rotate the premiership. But that deal collapsed in December.

What about Netanyahu’s corruption case?

The 71-year-old leader has been formally charged with corruption – accusations that he denies – and is set to continue hearings next month. Political analysts in Israel have speculated that Netanyahu broke up the last government as he was due to hand over power to Gantz. They say he would rather risk another election in the hope that he can fight the charges from the powerful position of prime minister.

Has anything changed this time?

Many of the key players remain the same, although some have switched around. Gantz, who had campaigned on the promise to oust Netanyahu but then reneged and joined him, lost a lot of support. Yair Lapid, Gantz’s former running mate, who appeals to secular, middle-class Israelis, is now head of the opposition.

Is the occupation an issue in this election?

Domestic politics in Israel has lurched far to the right, and the fate of millions of Palestinians under Israeli military control has all but disappeared from election campaigns.

When will we know the results?

Voting figures will trickle in from the early hours of Wednesday morning, but it could take days to count the ballots. If the outcome is muddied again, the real battle for power could take weeks. Current polls show a deadlock, so there is a possibility that the country could face a dreaded fifth election.

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