Official results showed the Likud party led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won a clear victory in Tuseday’s elections, with 99 percent of votes counted early Wednesday morning.
According to the official up-to-the-minute tally, the Likud won 29 seats while the Zionist Union came in second with 24 seats
Previously, Netanyahu has already declared victory but opposition leader Isaac Herzog said he refused to concede.
“Against all odds we have achieved a great victory for the Likud party and the national camp,” Netanyahu said during a speech on Tuesday night at the Tel Aviv Convention Center, citing an exit poll that showed a narrow lead for his party over the Zionist Union camp led by Herzog.
Netanyahu said he would act promptly to establish a “strong and stable government” that would look for the “security and well-being of all Israeli citizens.”
“I’ve spoken to the heads of the national camp and called them to join me and form a government as soon as possible, because reality does not take timeout,” Netanyahu said.
Hours later on Wednesday, Herzog said he refused to admit defeat.
Citing exit polls that showed him tied with Netanyahu in Tuesday’s elections, Herzog called on smaller parties to join a “socially-conscious government” headed by the Zionist Union.
“We achieved something extraordinary today,” Herzog told cheering supporters as they chanted: “hoo-ha here’s the next prime minister!”
Herzog said these were the best results the party had achieved in years. “These results will bring us back into power,” he said.
Herzog said that the results are not final yet, as some parties are on the edge of the electoral threshold and that could change the number of seats other parties have won.
Under Israel’s proportional representation system, voters vote for parties rather than individual candidates. The prime minister would be the one who could form a wide and stable coalition with at least 61 parliament seats to its name, not necessarily the leader of the party that won the most votes.
The Zionist Union and the Likud party are predicted to win 27 seats respectively in the 120-member parliament, according to exit polls conducted by Israel’s Channel 1 and Channel 10.
Meanwhile, an exit poll by Channel 2 gave the Likud a one-seat lead over the center-left Zionist Union, with the former winning 28 seats.
The polls show the dovish bloc which includes the Zionist Union has between 56-57 seats in the Knesset, whereas the right-wing camp has 54-55 seats.
Moshe Kahlon’s center Kulanu party will be the one to tip the scale with its 10 seats, with analysts assessing Kahlon will be more likely to join Netanyahu’s government.
“There’s no clear-cut majority for the right wing or center-left bloc. Kahlon will be the key person who would tip the scale,” Prof. Avraham Diskin, a political science expert from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said Tuesday night following the exit poll results.
“Kahlon can join the center-left parties, but given his background with the Likud party and his electorate’s mainly right-wing background, I cannot see him joining a center-left coalition,” he explained.
“If the Zionist camp had a landslide victory then it would be easier for Kahlon to join them, but that is not the case,” he added.
Given that the Zionist Camp got some power from its satellite parties earlier in the campaign, the potential of votes moving towards the Zionist Union was lower than that for the right wing, said Diskin. “What we see here is a sort of a tie, but Netanyahu has better odds of forming a government,” he added.
Yehuda Ben Meir from the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) agreed with Diskin, saying it won’t be easy to form a government, but Netanyahu certainly has better chances.