Both sides declared victory Tuesday night as Israelis voted in what looked like a placeholder election, but by early morning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed to emerge on top.
“There are losers and winners in elections, and we are the winners,” said top contender Benny Gantz. Later on, though, Mr. Netanyahu said he has “almost” completed gathering enough supporters for a ruling coalition.
Yet, Bibi’s legal troubles, culminating in a June court hearing, figured prominently in the campaign, and they may be on politicians’ minds as negotiating the election’s outcome, which will last for days, went into high gear.
Exit polls published by major press outlets immediately after polls closed Wednesday night (10 pm Israel time) pointed to a near tie between Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud and the surging Blue-White party headed by Benny Gantz, a former army chief of staff.
Once final results are published, likely on Wednesday, President Rivlin will quickly become Israel’s most important political player. He’ll decide who gets first dibs to compose a ruling coalition.
New to politics, General Gantz cobbled together a centrist party that gave hope to an increasing number of Israelis who, while supporting many of the current government’s policies, have become weary of Bibi’s personality.
General Gantz’s Blue and White party emerged as largest in the next Knesset, according to exit polls that gave it up to 37 Knesset members. Those numbers, however, changed hours later, as updated polls gave the edge to Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud, and may change further once final results are published by the national election committee.
Either way, Mr. Netanyahu is best positioned to gather 61 Knesset members to allow him to remain Prime Minister. After 13 years in power, he’s poised to soon become longest office holder in the country’s history.
Heavy legal clouds could soon end it all, though, and mark huge political shifts.
Leaders of two small parties, Avigdor Liberman and Moshe Kahlon, declined to immediately declare allegiance to either Mr. Netanyahu or General Gantz. Natural political allies of Mr. Netanyahu (though both have been stung by him in the past), they may well hesitate to support him before his legal troubles are lifted.
Then again, even if General Gantz manages to somehow eke out a governing coalition, it may be short-lived as well, undone when its left-right politicians push in opposite political directions.
Either way, it’s very possible the next election will come much sooner than in four years, the allotted time for the incoming government. If so, Tuesday’s vote will be mere prelude for the next election, the one that will determine Israel’s future.
From the New York Post.