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Netanyahu's Likud leads in Israel's contested elections, but his bloc is one seat short of parliamentary majority - exit polls

Netanyahu's Likud leads in Israel's contested elections, but his bloc is one seat short of parliamentary majority - exit polls
Benjamin's Netanyahu has emerged atop the polls in Israel, as the country’s third general election in a year draws to a close. He is still short of getting a governing parliamentary majority

Polls in Israel closed at 10pm on Monday. According to two national exit polls, Netanyahu’s Likud party secured between 36 and 37 seats in the Knesset, beating centrist rival Benny Gantz’ Blue and White party, which finished with 33. 

Neither leader was able to piece together a government following last year’s two elections, despite both attempting multiple times to rope in a smattering of smaller parties to secure the 61 Knesset seats necessary for a majority.

According to one exit poll on Monday, Likud, together with a bloc of smaller right-wing parties, is now just one seat short of a majority, and with it Netanyahu is close to a fifth term as Prime Minister. 

Turnout on Monday was the highest since 1999, even amid the lurking threat of the Covid-19 coronavirus, which has infected ten people in Israel. For many Israelis, breaking the deadlock and wrapping up the country’s seemingly endless election season was paramount.  

President Reuven Rivlin voiced his frustration after casting his vote on Monday. “Today I have no sense of celebration,” he told reporters. “We don’t deserve another awful and grubby election campaign like the one that ends today and we don’t deserve this never-ending instability. We deserve a government that works for us.”

For Netanyahu, the stakes are high. Indicted in three cases of corruption, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister will face a criminal trial in two weeks. Should he retain power, Netanyahu will not automatically enjoy immunity, yet could continue to rule throughout a drawn-out appeals process. Gantz, who has referred to Netanyahu as “the defendant” throughout his campaign, has accused his rival of seeking power to pass legislation to shield himself from conviction.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, accused Gantz of seeking the support of Arab parties in the Knesset, a move he claimed would leave the former armed forces chief incapable of taking decisive military action in Israel’s tense region.

Whatever happens next, Israel’s political system is moving into uncharted territory. A fifth term for Netanyahu would be unprecedented, as would a prime minister on trial for corruption. Conversely, a fourth election in less than a year would be a new, though most unwelcome, milestone for the Israeli electorate.

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