Shock for Netanyahu in Israeli poll
Despite being one of the most lacklustre Israeli election campaigns ever, last night’s TV exit polls produced a political drama and a major vote of no-confidence for incumbent prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
According to Channel 2 television Mr Netanyahu’s joint Likud Beiteinu list will have only 31 seats in the 120-seat Knesset parliament, significantly lower than the polls predicted, and 11 fewer than the 42 combined seats Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu had in the outgoing Knesset.
Mr Netanyahu will still probably be the next prime minister but exit polls showed a pretty even split between the blocs, with the right-religious bloc winning 61 seats compared to 59 for the centre-left-Arab bloc.
Mr Netanyahu posted on his Facebook page a statement in which he thanked the people of Israel. “According to the polls, it’s obvious that Israeli citizens would like me to continue to serve as prime minister, and that I form as wide a government as possible.”
A right-wing religious coalition is no longer the certainty it appeared over the last few weeks. Yesterday’s vote was a clear vote for change.
The sensation of the night was There is a Future, the new centrist party of former TV anchor Yair Lapid (49), which was predicted to win 19 seats, becoming the second-largest party in the next Knesset.
It appears a large number of floating voters at the last minute opted for the party at the expense of Likud Beiteinu and other right-wing parties.
President Shimon Peres will ask one of the party leaders to form the next government after hearing the recommendations of all the party leaders, beginning next week.
Mr Lapid now holds the key to Mr Netanyahu’s hopes of forming a stable coalition.
Whereas the leaders of the other two centrist parties, Labor and the Movement, made it clear during the campaign that they would not recommend Mr Netanyahu to be the next prime minister, Mr Lapid said he would decide only after the results were announced.
Mr Lapid said during the campaign he would not be prepared to act as a “fig leaf” for a right-wing religious coalition.
He won support among middle-class, secular voters by promising to resolve a growing housing shortage, abolish military draft exemptions for ultra-Orthodox seminary students and seek an overhaul of the failing education system. With 19 seats he has the power to make demands of Mr Netanyahu, and he may well press for a broad-based coalition including Labor and The Movement.
Labor was given 17 seats, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni’s centrist The Movement seven, the ultra-Orthodox Shas 12, United Torah Judaism six, the left-wing Meretz seven, and the three combined Arab parties nine seats.