Exit polls: Netanyahu's Likud wins Israeli election, Yesh Atid surprises

(JNS.org) Exit polls show that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been reelected for a third term in the Tuesday Israeli election, although with a narrower margin than expected.  Polls from major Israeli television stations showed that Netanyahu's Likud-Beytenu party alliance won 31 Knesset mandates, a major drop from the 42 seats the party alliance had in the previous Knesset. But a surprisingly strong showing from the centrist Yesh Atid party could make it difficult for Netanyahu to form a new right-wing government.

Despite the weak showing, Netanyahu, along with his right wing and religious partners including the new HaBayit HaYehudi party, should be able to form a narrow 61 or 62 seat majority in the 120-member parliament.

But the biggest surprise of the night belonged to the centrist Yesh Atid party which placed second with 19 seats. Led by former Channel 2 news anchor Yair Lapid, their strong results could position Lapid to become either the opposition leader or to join Netanyahu’s coalition. While Lapid has not made his intentions clear yet, rumors before the election suggested that he was the most likely centrist candidate to join Netanyahu’s right wing coalition. If so, a national coalition comprising Likud, Yesh Atid and HaBayit HaYehudi could form, excluding ultra-Orthodox parties like Shas and United Torah Judaism.

In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Netanyahu confirmed his preliminary victory and hinted at the prospect of forming a broader 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)," Netanyahu said, the Associated Press reported. "Already this evening I will begin working toward the widest possible government.

Posted on January 22, 2013 .