Israeli Likud Party supporters react to the exit polls while they wait for the announcement of the first official results of Israel’s parliamentary elections. Photograph: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images
Courtesy of The Guardian:
Binyamin Netanyahu’s last-minute campaign to persuade voters not to abandon his Likud party appears to have succeeded as exit polls from Israel’s general election showed him deadlocked with his main rival, Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union.
The Israeli prime minister – who had been trailing in polls ahead of the election – succeeded in cannibalising the vote of rival rightwing parties to emerge neck and neck with Herzog.
Two polls showed the parties deadlocked with 27 seats each, and a third gave Likud a slight lead of 28-27.
Despite the tie, Netanyahu took to Twitter to claim a “great victory” for his Likud party, which he said was a “major victory for the people of Israel”.
The exit polls – if confirmed in the final official results – would seem to give Netanyahu the advantage in forming a coalition, even as Israeli president Reuven Rivlin indicated he would seek a national unity government.
Rivlin, whose constitutional role is to invite the leader most likely to form a stable coalition, said: “I am convinced that only a unity government can prevent the rapid disintegration of Israel’s democracy and new elections in the near future.”
Zionist Union officials insisted that they would not be conceding and had formed a negotiating team to try to form a coalition headed by the Zionist Union without the Likud.
After a sustained media blitz in which Netanyahu accused leftwing activists and foreign governments of funding a campaign to depose him, it appeared that many Likud voters who had been threatening to defect to other centrist and rightwing parties decided instead to hold their noses and vote for him.
The biggest winner of the campaign, however, appeared to be the new centre right Kulanu party of Moshe Kahlon, a popular former Likud minister, who may well emerge as the key kingmaker in the coalition negotiations that will follow.
Israel Radio reported that Kahlon had spoken to both Netanyahu and Herzog since the exit polls were published but without giving any indication which leader he favoured. Received wisdom, however, suggests that Kahlon, a popular former Likud finance minister credited with breaking up the country’s mobile phone monopoly, has ambitions to be prime minister himself in the long run which would probably require him to return to Likud at some point.
Well that’s a fucking bummer. I just hope the exit polls are wrong.