Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud-Beitenu list has won a narrow majority in the national election, but was weakened by an unexpectedly strong showing by the centrist Yesh Atid, according to exit polls.
The polls, released by Israel’s three main television stations, showed Netanyahu’s Likud, running on a joint list with the hardline Yisrael Beitenu, winning just 31 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, followed by Yesh Atid with 18-19 and Labour in third place with 17.
The far-right nationalist religious Jewish Home party, which had been widely expected to take second place, won 12 seats.
Although Israel’s political system does not specify that the party with the most votes is guaranteed to form the next coalition, Netanyahu is widely expected to be handed the task of pulling together 61 MPs to form a majority.
Polls have consistently predicted Netanyahu’s re-election, with pundits suggesting he would preside over a coalition leaning further to the right. The exit polls suggest it is now more likely to be a centre-right government.
Shortly after the polls were broadcast on Tuesday, Netanyahu thanked Israelis for re-electing him for a second consecutive term in office and pledged to build a coalition which was “as broad as possible”.
“I wish to thank millions of Israelis who realised their democratic right today,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
“Based on the results in the exit polls, it’s clear the citizens of Israel determined they want me to continue as prime minister, and that I form a government as wide as possible,” he wrote.
He said he would immediately begin efforts to to do that.