Israel elections: Benjamin Netanyahu wins narrow victory
Benjamin Netanyahu has declared victory in Israel's general election as exit polls showed the right-wing bloc on course to win a narrow majority.
The Israeli prime minister claimed the people had given him a mandate to form a "broad-based government" despite indications that voters had delivered a major blow to him, with his Likud Beiteinu bloc on course to win just 31 seats. Although still the largest party in the new Knesset, the projected result represents the loss of 11 seats and is fewer than opinion polls had predicted.
As polling stations closed, exit polls showed that Right-wing parties projected to win 61 or 62 seats in the country's 120-member parliament. The centre-Left bloc was forecast to win between 58 and 59 seats.
In the night's major surprise, the Centrist Yesh Atid party emerged as the second biggest party, with 19 seats -- well ahead of Naftali Bennett's pro-settler Jewish Home party, which was expected to win 12 seats, fewer than opinions had predicted. Labour was on course to finish third with 17 seats.
There was speculation that Yesh Atid, led by a former journalist, Yair Lapid, could enter a coalition with Mr Netanyahu, thus moderating the influence of the Right. Mr Netanyahu said he had spoken with Mr Lapid, reportedly telling him that the two could do "great things" for Israel.
It appeared that many wavering voters had swung behind Yesh Atid amid expectations of a strong showing for the Jewish Home party, which was strongly backed by settlers.
The prime minister, who had earlier warned supporters that the Likud government was "in danger", declared on his Facebook page that results represented "a wonderful chance for many changes".
"It is clear that the citizens of Israel have decided that they want me to continue in my position as prime minister, and for me to form as broad a coalition as possible," he wrote. "Starting tonight, I will commence efforts to form the broadest coalition possible." Earlier, the prime minister urged voters to back Likud Beiteinu after casting his vote in Jerusalem's Rahavia neighbourhood, before visiting the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site.
"Likud-Beiteinu represents all the people. The stronger Likud-Beiteinu is, the easier it will be to lead Israel successfully," he said.
His comments were aimed at reversing the surge in support for the Jewish Home party, which advocates annexing large sections of West Bank land that the Palestinians want for a future state.
Posted by: lotp 2013-01-23