Right bloc slips to exactly half of Israeli vote

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s final election results showed the right wing with exactly half of the Knesset’s 120 seats, down five from its current number.

The right bloc in the balloting for the 19th Knesset had 60 votes, according to results released Jan. 23, the day after the balloting.

The Likud party led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a combined campaign with Avigdor Liberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, took 31 seats — down from the 42 seats now held by the two parties.

Yesh Atid, a new center-left party led by the former television personality Yair Lapid, finished a surprising second with 19 seats. Lapid, son of the late Shinui party chief Tommy Lapid, ran a low-key campaign.

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.

Other parties in the 19th Knesset are Labor with 15 seats; the Sephardic Orthodox Shas with 11, the same as in the previous government; the Jewish Home party led by Naftali Bennett, also with 11, up from three in the last Knesset when it was the National Religious Party; the haredi Orthodox United Torah Judaism party with seven seats; the new Hatnua party, led by former Kadima head Tzipi Livni, and the left-wing Meretz, each with six seats; the United Arab List-Taal party with five; the Arab-Jewish Hadash party with four seats; and the Arab-Israeli Balad Party with three seats.

The Kadima party, which had the most seats in 2009 with 28 when it was led by Livni, finished with two. Exit polls had showed Kadima not breaking the 2 percent threshold needed for Knesset representation.

Two-thirds, or 3.77 million, of Israel’s 5,656,705 eligible voters turned out, according to the Central Elections Committee. The number of voters was the highest since 1999, though turnout was down significantly among Arab voters. 

The election results will not be certified until next week. Ballots cast by soldiers in the field, hospital patients, prisoners and overseas government personnel, among other special double-envelope ballots, have not yet been counted.

Netanyahu spoke to his supporters at his campaign headquarters shortly after midnight on Jan. 23.

"I am proud to be your prime minister and I thank you for giving me the opportunity, for the third time, to lead the State of Israel," he said. "It is a great honor, but it is also a great responsibility. It is an opportunity to make changes that the citizens of Israel wish upon themselves and that will serve all the citizens of Israel. I intend on making those changes by forming the broadest coalition possible, and I have begun working toward that tonight."

Lapid, in a speech delivered at the same time as Netanyahu’s and shown on a split screen on the major Israeli networks, told his supporters, "A heavy responsibility has been placed on our shoulders tonight. I urge the senior members of the political system to form as broad a government as possible that would unite the moderate forces from the left and right, so that we will be able to bring about real change in the State of Israel."

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