Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving leader, is on course to form the next government more than a year after fractured verdict forced him to head a caretaker government. The 70-year-old, whose corruption trial is scheduled to start later this month, thanked the electorate on Twitter after major TV channels predicted the victory of his Likud coalition.
As many as three prominent news channels said Netanyahu's right-wing coalition will win 60 of parliament's 120-seats. "We won thanks to our belief in our path and thanks to the people of Israel," Netanyahu said in a Twitter post. Netanyahu's chief rival Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party refused to concede defeat and asked his supporters to "continue to fight for the right path, for you."
Will exit polls prove opinion surveys wrong?
The actual results are expected to arrive through Tuesday, giving a clearer picture of the verdict. Netanyahu's Likud coalition was unable to form a government last April even though it won 60 seats. Even as Netanyahu grabbed the early psychological edge by claiming victory Israel's President Reuven Rivlin will meet with smaller party leaders in the coming days to find who they would support in the government formation.
The exit polls had predicted 32-33 parliamentary seats for Blue and White as against between 36 and 37 for Likud. If Netanyahu goes on to win that many, it will be a reversal of the September election results where Gantz had garnered 33 seats whereas Likud got only 32. However, the Blue and White was unsuccessful in forming a government in September, necessitating a third election to end the impasse.
If the polls turn out as accurate, they would prove pre-election opinion polls wrong. As per the pre-election surveys, Likud and Blue and White were in a dead heat, with neither Netanyahu nor Gantz looking like cruising to outright victory.
Strong nationalist government on the cards
In conversations with close supporters, Netanyahu expressed his intent to form a strong nationalist government as soon as possible, the Jerusalem Post reported. He may form the government well ahead of the start of his corruption trial on March 17, sources in the Likud party told the daily.
The latest polls showed a higher voter turnout than the previous ones in April and September. As many as 71 percent of the voters turned out to vote, as against 69.83 percent in September and 68.46 percent in April. Interestingly, the voter turnout among the 5,000-odd people quarantined in the wake of the coronavirus scare, was also high.