JERUSALEM — Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to hold a slim lead in Israeli elections early Wednesday, which could pave the way for a return to power, according to exit polls.
Exit polls are provisional and final results may change as votes are tallied.
Tuesday’s elections were Israel’s fifth in less than four years, all of which focused largely on Netanyahu’s fitness to rule. Netanyahu, who is on trial for a slew of corruption charges, is seen as a victim of a witch hunt by his supporters and vilified as a fraud and a threat to democracy by his opponents.
As in past elections, the votes were tight. Exit polls for his three major Israeli TV stations all show Netanyahu and his hardline allies gaining his 61 or 62 seats in parliament and a majority in his 120-seat parliament needed to govern. I predicted.
However, polls showed that small Arab parties are about to cross the threshold required for parliamentary participation.
Election officials worked overnight to count the votes. As early as Wednesday, 25% of the votes were tallied, leaving the final outcome unclear.
If Netanyahu’s allies emerge victorious, it could still take weeks of negotiations before a coalition is formed. A stalemate could persist and new elections could be called.
Speaking in Jerusalem at midnight, Netanyahu called on his supporters to be patient and said his Likud party was “on the brink of a very big victory.”
Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, was ousted last year by a coalition led by Yair Lapid after serving for 12 consecutive years and ruling for a total of 15 years.
But the coalition Rapid put together, which included the first Arab party to ever join a government, was ravaged by infighting and collapsed after coming to power in just one year. It was poised to win just 54 seats.
Rapid addressed supporters earlier Wednesday, insisting the race had not been decided.
“Nothing is finished, nothing is conclusive until the last envelope is counted,” he said.