Israeli election: No clear winner, exit polls indicate

Exit polls in Israel suggest there will be no clear winner in the closely fought general election.

The centrist Blue and White alliance of former military chief Benny Gantz was projected to win 36 or 37 seats, with the Likud party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 33 to 36.

Both men have claimed victory.

Two exit polls predicted that right-wing parties allied to Mr Netanyahu were more likely to be able to form a governing coalition.

But a third exit poll predicted that the bloc would be tied with centre-left parties allied to Mr Gantz.

“We won! The Israeli public has had its say!” Blue and White said in a statement. “These elections have a clear winner and a clear loser.”

Mr Netanyahu tweeted: “The right-ring bloc led by Likud triumphed conclusively. I thank the citizens of Israel for the vote of confidence. I will begin the task of forming a right-wing government with our natural partners tonight.”

No party has ever won a majority in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, the Knesset, and the country has always had coalition governments.

What are the exit polls predicting?

Three Israeli television networks carried out separate exit polls:

  • Public broadcaster Kan projected that Blue and White would win 37 seats and Likud 36. It said the right-wing bloc was expected to control 64 seats in parliament and the centre-left bloc 56
  • Channel 13 predicted both parties with end up with 36 seats, but that right-wing parties would control 66 seats to the centre-left’s 54
  • Channel 12 News projected that Blue and White would win 37 seats and Likud 33 seats. But it had the centre-left and right-wing blocs both controlling 60 seats

The three predicted that the left-wing Labour party would win between six and eight seats, and the left-wing Meretz party between four and five seats.

It was not clear how many of the more than 40 smaller parties contesting the election would win at least 3.25% of the national vote – the threshold for entering parliament with four seats.

Two exit polls suggested outgoing Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s New Right party and Moshe Feiglin’s ultra-nationalist Zehut party had not passed the threshold.

Graphic showing Israeli election exit poll projections

At the election night event for Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv, a huge cheer went up as the first exit poll was released.

His supporters expressed confidence that Israel could be on the brink of a new centre-ground government.

“Change is on the way,” one activist told me above the roars of celebration.

But the outcome is far from clear. At the last election, the exit polls were dramatically wrong.

And the real politics start now if there is a close result – as both main parties canvas Israel’s president for the right to start talks to assemble a coalition.