Exit polls indicate no clear winner in Israeli election

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fate uncertain, according to exit polls that signal continued political deadlock.Exit polls indicated there is no clear winner in Israel’s election, leaving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fate uncertain and signaling continued political deadlock.

The polls on Israel’s three main TV stations late Tuesday showed Netanyahu and his religious and nationalist allies, as well as diverse array of opponents, both falling short of a parliamentary majority. That could set the stage for weeks of paralysis and even an unprecedented fifth consecutive election.Exit polls are often imprecise and the official results may not be known for days.

The exit polls conducted by Channels 11, 12 and 13 were nearly identical, showing Netanyahu and his allies with 53-54 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel’s parliament. His opponents were projected to win 59, and Naftali Bennett’s far-right Yamina party was projected to win 7-8.

If the final results are in line with the exit polls, both sides will have to court Bennett, a former Netanyahu ally with strained relations with the prime minister, to form a majority of at least 61 seats.

Netanyahu’s political survival appeared to rest with Bennett, a former defence minister.Israel’s centre-left made a better showing than expected, according to the polls, but it also came up short in the 120-member parliament.

Bennett has said he would not serve under the centre-left group’s most likely leader, Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party.

Bennett, a former Netanyahu aide who has long sought to replace him at the helm, remained noncommittal about his coalition intentions immediately after polling stations closed.

“I will do only what is good for the state of Israel,” Bennett was quoted as saying by a spokesman.

‘Festival of democracy’
Opinion polls had forecast a tight race between those who support Israel’s longest-serving leader and those who want “anyone but Bibi” as he is widely known.

“Vote, vote, vote, vote, vote,” Netanyahu said after casting his ballot in Jerusalem, his wife, Sara, at his side. He called the occasion a “festival of democracy”.Polling stations opened across Israel and in the occupied West Bank, with some 6.5 million registered voters set to deliver a result that could prolong the worst period of political gridlock in the country’s history.

“This the moment of truth for the State of Israel,” said Lapid as he voted in Tel Aviv.

The Israeli electorate is deeply polarised with supporters hailing Netanyahu, 71, as “King Bibi”, and opponents holding up placards calling him “Crime Minister”.

Lapid’s Yesh Atid party emerged as the main centrist alternative to Netanyahu’s Likud. He reflected the race’s stark rhetoric when he offered himself as an alternative to a “government of darkness and racism”.

Netanyahu also faced challenges from a number of onetime allies who have formed their own parties after bitter breakups with the prime minister.

They include former protege Gideon Saar, who broke away from Likud to form the New Hope. He said the party is a nationalist alternative unburdened by corruption charges and what he alleged is “a cult of personality” that keeps Likud in power.

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