Jan 22 2013
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party and his hard-line allies have won a narrow majority in parliamentary elections, exit polls show.
In an election far closer than polls forecast, Mr Netanyahu's Likud Party captured just 31 seats, well below expectations.
But with his hard-line and religious allies, he would still be able to form a narrow majority in the 120-seat parliament, according to the exit polls.
In the biggest surprise, the centrist Yesh Atid, party headed by political newcomer Yair Lapid captured as many as 19 seats, well above the forecasts. That would position Mr Lapid to become either opposition leader or seek a major Cabinet post if he decides to join Netanyahu's governing coalition.
Mr Netanyahu's campaign manager, Gideon Saar, says he hopes to form a broad coalition.
The exit polls aired on Israel's three major TV stations all forecast Likud and its traditional allies to capture a shaky majority of just 61 or 62 seats. With official results trickling in throughout the night, it was possible that the two sides could end in deadlock.
In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Mr Netanyahu said he would reach across the aisle and try to form a broad-based coalition.
"According to the exit polls, it is clear that Israel citizens decided that they want me to continue to serve as prime minister of Israel, and that I form the widest possible majority (coalition)," he said. "Already this evening I will begin working towards the widest possible government."
Such a scenario would have deep implications for Mid East peace prospects. Mr Netanyahu's centrist opponents have said they would not join his government if he does not make a serious push for peace with the Palestinians. Peace talks have been deadlocked throughout Mr Netanyahu's four-year term.
According to the exit polls, Mr Netanyahu's Likud-Yisrael Beitenu bloc captured just 31 seats, far below forecasts of recent opinion polls. The two parties, running separately, had 42 seats in the outgoing house.