The votes have been counted in Israel’s national elections, and it’s Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party by a far wider margin than anyone expected. With 90% of votes counted, Likud has over 23% of the vote and 30 seats in the next Knesset compared to 24 seats and around 18% for Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union.
Exit polls indicated a virtual tie. They were wrong. Netanyahu, who many believed was on the verge of defeat just a few hours ago, now looks to be in a secure position to form a government.
Exit polls released at the conclusion of voting at 10 PM Israel time on Tuesday showed a very close race between Likud and the Zionist Union with a coalition of Arab parties placing third. Netanyahu and Herzog both declared victory, with each claiming they have the support needed to form a governing coalition.
Herzog reportedly began trying to build a coalition without Netanyahu despite potentially finishing behind him. In an initial speech to his supporters, Herzog did not concede, and appealed to the other parties to form a “socioeconomic reconciliation government” that he would lead.
But Netanyahu had already declared victory, in a Hebrew-language tweet, proclaiming shortly after polls closed that his Likud party had won a “great victory against all odds.”
He added that the “national camp” had won a “great victory,” too, in reference to the Israeli right. The furthest right-wing of Israel’s mainstream parties is projected to lose seats, with Naftali Bennet’s Bayit HaYehudi party primed to drop to eight or nine seats from its current 12, and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu barely making it past the threshold for inclusion.
A right-wing coalition now seems a certainty with Likud going from 18 seats to 30.
The election results deviate not just from the exit polls, but from weeks of polling that showed the Zionist Union holding a slight lead on Likud. It turns out Netanyahu was in a dramatically much stronger position than just about anyone expected.
The vote wasn’t a total loss for the Zionist Union, though. In the last election in early 2013, the Labour Party — one of the political parties that formed the Zionist Union — won 15 seats and did not field a credible prime ministerial candidate. Now, a Labour-led bloc has added 9 seats and is well positioned in the event that the next government doesn’t last until the end of its four-year term.
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