Israeli election - is the Netanyahu era over?
After exit polls put the prime minister in second place, weeks of horse trading are expected
Benjamin Netanyahu’s reign as prime minister of Israel could be coming to an end after 10 years, as exit polls from the Israeli general election put his party in second place.
The centrist Blue and White alliance of former military chief Benny Gantz was forecast to win between 32 and 34 seats, while Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party is tipped to take 30 to 33 seats. This would leave Netanyahu “scrambling for his political survival,” says The Guardian.
However, Israeli newspaper Haaretz said that, with 92% of the votes counted, Netanyahu’s bloc was slightly ahead, albeit without a majority.
Weeks of negotiations are expected as the two main parties each try to form a coalition government. Many expect the Yisrael Beiteinu party’s hardline leader Avigdor Lieberman to become kingmaker.
However, Lieberman has said he would prefer a three-way administration. Speaking at a rally last night, he called for a unity government. “We only have one option,” he told supporters. “A broad, liberal, national government made up of Yisrael Beiteinu, Likud and Blue and White.”
This demand could spell the end of Netanyahu as opposition parties have said they would only sit in coalition with Likud if he were replaced as its leader. The PM called last night’s vote after he failed to form a governing coalition in the wake of an election in April.
A third way forward could be another general election. However, this would be an unpopular move and would be complicated because Netanyahu is facing court hearing on charges of corruption, which he denies.
The BBC’s political editor Jeremy Bowen says that the election has been “a referendum on Benjamin Netanyahu's last 10 years in office” and that if the exit polls are accurate, then “the Netanyahu era in Israeli politics is ending”.
As Benjamin Netanyahu addressed his supporters at the Likud election party, the crowd cheered “Bibi! Bibi!” and chanted “We don’t want unity!”
He told them the election campaign as “tough,” adding: “I want to thank first of all the members of the parliament and members of the Likud, we worked together in unity and together we will be united for the future, the future for the good of Israel.”
Taking a Trump-like turn, he said: “We managed to bring big results despite the one-sided media coverage.”
As Gantz addressed his own supporters, he was in a combative mood: “Of course we'll wait for the real results, but it seems we have accomplished our mission. The unity and reconciliation is ahead of us.”
The Israeli Arab Joint List came third in the exit polls with 13 seats; followed by Avigdor Lieberman's secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party with nine; the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties are expected to take nine and eight seats respectively.