Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed victory after his coalition was projected to win a majority in the fourth election the country conducted in less than two years.
While the prime minister's Likud party was expected to win at least 31 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, Netanyahu is expected to form a government along with his allies.
Likud and the coalition partners -- Shas, United Torah Judaism and the Religious Zionist Party -- seem to have gained the 60 seats required to form the government. Netanyahu is also expected to get the support of the Yamina Party of former protege Naftali Bennett.
The projections were made based the calls made by prime channels KAN, Channel 12 and Channel 13, according to the Jerusalem Post.
The right wing Likud party said Netanyahu should be able to form a government soon. Meanwhile, Netanyahu said he won "a giant victory." He also reached out to Bennett, asking him to join the government. Netanyahu exhorted his coalition partners to come together to form a stable right-wing government.
Bennett, who said he would act for the good of all the citizens of Israel, declined to give fulsome support to Netanyahu, even as his associates said the party was "not in Netanyahu's pocket."
The official results are expected this week, and the calculations based on exit polls could change in the final tally. Netanyahu and his Likud party hope the political stalemate since the April elections in 2019 will finally end if the coalition can stitch together the 60 seats needed to form a stable government. Netanyahu has been in power for more than 12 years, but has faced stiff resistance in the recent years.
The Election Timeline
The latest election was necessitated after the coalition government Netanyahu formed with the support of former military chief Benny Gantz fell apart owing to differences over the budget 2020. The Knesset was dissolved on December 22 .
The previous election was in March 2020, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. While no coalition was able to put together a government, Netanyahu's Likud and Benny Gantz' Blue and White eventually came together to form the government.
It was reported that Gantz was supposed to become the prime minister in November 2021 under the deal, but Israeli political watchers were skeptical about the chances of the government lasting that long.
Interestingly, the Blue and White had got 33 seats against Likud's 32 in the elections held in September 2019. However, the Blue and White was unsuccessful in forming a government. necessitating a third election to end the impasse. Yet another election was held in April that year, which was also unsuccessful in returning a clear mandate.
Yair Lapid Says Netanyahu Has No Majority
Meanwhile, Opposition leader Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party contested Netanyahu's victory claim. He said the anti-Netanyahu bloc will get the majority. "At the moment, Netanyahu doesn't have 61 seats," Lapid said, JPost reported.
He also said he was speaking to party leaders and that he would wait for the results. He added that he would everything possible to form a 'sane government' in Israel.
Gantz Talks About a Fifth Election
Benny Gantz, the current defense minister, has faced a setback in the election, according to the projections by the channels. Though his Blue and White will outperform the expectations, he will only get around 7 seats, a much lower tally than the last time, when he aligned with Netanyahu to form a last-minute government.
"Starting tomorrow, I'll do my best to unite the pro-change block ... And if we are forced to face a fifth round of elections, I will vigilantly protect our democracy, rule of law and security. Because Israel comes first," Gantz said on Tuesday.