JERUSALEM (JTA) – Exit polls showed the combined list of Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu leading the way in Israeli elections, as expected, and the new center-left Yesh Atid Party finishing a surprising second.
The polls were released immediately after the balloting closed on Jan. 22.
They showed the Likud Party led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a combined campaign with Avidgor Liberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, taking 31 seats in the 19th Knesset, down from the 42 seats now held by the two parties.
Yesh Atid, which is led by the former television personality Yair Lapid and ran a low-key campaign, was projected in polls to receive 18 seats.
Israel’s Channel 1 projected the right-wing bloc garnering 62 seats, the left-wing capturing 47 and the Arab-Israeli parties winning 11 seats. It further projected 17 seats for the Labor Party led by Shelly Yachimovich, 12 seats for the Jewish Home party of Naftali Bennett, up from 3 in the last Knesset, and 11 for the Sephardic Orthodox party Shas.
Hatnua, led by former opposition leader and Kadima head Tzipi Livni, and Meretz led by Zahava Gal-On both won seven seats, according to Channel 1. Kadima, which had 28 seats under Livni, was not expected to reach the 2 percent threshold for a place in the Knesset.
The Arab and Jewish Hadash party was projected to receive four seats — one more than United Arab List-Ta’al. The Arab-Israeli Balad and the controversial Strong Israel each were projected by Channel 1 to receive two seats, though other polls put them at not reaching the threshold.
“According to exit-poll results, it is clear that the citizens of Israel demonstrated that they want me to continue to serve in the role of prime minister of Israel, and that I form the broadest possible government,” Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page.
Some 66.6 percent of eligible voters went to the polls, compared with 65.2 percent in 2009.
Some 85 percent of the ballots are expected to be counted in the coming hours, with the remaining tallied and announced on the morning of Jan. 23.
Following the final results, Israeli President Shimon Peres will consult with party leaders and ask them who they would recommend to form the next government. Peres then will choose the party leader most likely to be able to form a successful coalition government — it is expected to be Netanyahu — who then has up to 42 days to present his government for a vote of confidence.