FE Today Logo
Search date: 11-04-2019 Return to current date: Click here

Netanyahu in good position to form coalition govt

April 11, 2019 00:00:00

TEL AVIV, Apr 10 (AFP): Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared best placed to form a governing coalition on Wednesday after high-stakes Israeli elections, exit polls showed, but remained in a tight race with his main rival as votes were being counted.

Both Netanyahu and ex-military chief Benny Gantz claimed victory after initial exit surveys were released by Israel's three main television stations following the closure of polling venues on Tuesday night.

Two updated exit polls early Wednesday put Netanyahu's Likud ahead of Gantz's Blue and White by one seat. A third poll showed the opposite, with Blue and White holding a one-seat advantage.

Both parties would in any case fall far short of a majority and be forced to form a coalition.

All three exit polls showed Netanyahu more likely to be able to do so with smaller rightwing parties allied to him in the 120-seat parliament.

Exit polls have proven to be unreliable in past Israeli elections and final official results were not expected until later Wednesday.

With some 64 percent of the vote counted, Likud had 27.59 percent compared to Blue and White's 26.04 percent, official results showed.

Addressing cheering supporters who waived Israeli flags at an event hall in Tel Aviv, Gantz called it an "historic day."

"The president must give us the task of forming the next government since we are the biggest party," he said after initial exit polls.

Netanyahu spoke later and declared himself the winner of a fifth term in office.

As he walked onto the stage to chanting crowds, he planted a kiss on the lips of his wife Sara before dramatically wiping lipstick from his face.

"It will be a rightwing government, but I will be prime minister for all," he said.

The vote had long been expected to be close and lead to frantic negotiations to form a coalition, even with Netanyahu facing potential corruption charges.

"Things can change, but in any case the rightwing bloc won," Meshi Sivani, 52 and wearing a Likud t-shirt, said at Netanyahu's post-election party.

Shushan Levi, 61, called Gantz's performance an "enormous victory for an alliance so new."

"Once he announced he was entering politics, I followed him," he said at Blue and White's party.

"He was my commander in the army 40 years ago."

Gantz, a newcomer to politics, mounted a strong challenge to the veteran prime minister by brandishing his security credentials while pledging to undo damage he says Netanyahu has inflicted on the country with divisive politics.

The election was in many ways a referendum on the 69-year-old premier who has built a reputation as guarantor of the country's security and economic growth, but whose populism and alleged corruption have left many ready for change.

He engaged in populist rhetoric that critics said amounted to the demonisation of Arab Israelis and others.

Netanyahu faced further criticism on election day when members of his Likud party brought small cameras into polling stations in Arab areas.

Arab politicians called it an attempt at intimidation, while Netanyahu said cameras would prevent fraud.

True to form, Netanyahu issued a deeply controversial pledge only three days before the election, saying he planned to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank should he win.

Extending Israeli sovereignty on a large-scale in the West Bank could be the death knell to already fading hopes for a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Share if you like