Israel's Lieberman calls for unity govt after tight election
Israeli ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman called for a unity government between his party, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud and the main opposition Blue and White after polls closed in Tuesday's election.
"There is only one option for us," the head of the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party told supporters at a post-election rally, calling for a unity government without the country's ultra-Orthodox religious parties.
The comments came after exit polls showed a close race between Netanyahu and Gantz, suggesting the Likud leader could have potentially failed to secure a parliamentary majority with his hard-right allies in Israel's second election.
The results were broadcast by Israel's three major TV stations after polling stations across the country closed.
Polls shown by Channel 13 and Channel 12 placed the centrist Blue and White party, headed by his chief rival Benny Gantz, in the lead over Netanyahu’s Likud party, while Channel 1 placed them neck and neck.
The surveys by Israeli television stations gave Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud 31-33 of parliament’s 120 seats compared with 32-34 for the centrist Blue and White led by former general Benny Gantz.
The set back deals a blow to the PM who is fighting to secure a record fifth term in office, extending his current record as the country’s longest serving prime minister.
None of the polls broadcast on local news suggested Netanyahu's right-wing bloc would be able to secure the 61-seat majority of the Knesset needed to form a government, in a repeat of events from elections in April.
The official elections results are expected on Wednesday.
The results prompted initial cheers at Blue and White's post-election party in Tel Aviv, where they were shown on large screens, before doubts began to set in.
"We have an advantage, but I see that we are dependent on Lieberman," said supporter Dina Margoli, 40.
The stakes could not be much higher for the 69-year-old Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, who is facing possible corruption charges in the weeks ahead.
He spent the day warning he was on the verge of losing if his supporters did not turn out to vote, and made appearances at Jerusalem's main market and its central bus station, wielding a megaphone to exhort the crowds.
He repeatedly warned, as he has in previous elections, that left-wing and Arab voters were showing up in large numbers to vote him out, appearing on Facebook live to do so.
US "President (Donald) Trump said yesterday that the elections will be tight," Netanyahu said when voting on Tuesday morning, referring to comments by his staunch ally who called the polls “50/50".
"I can guarantee you this morning that they are very tight.”
Gantz voted in his hometown of Rosh Haayin near Tel Aviv and called on the country to reject corruption and “extremism".
"We want new hope. We are voting today for change," Gantz said after voting with his wife Revital.
"We will succeed in bringing hope. We will succeed in bringing change, without corruption and without extremism, all together.”
Later he visited a shopping mall in the northern city of Haifa and addressed the public through a megaphone on the beach in Tel Aviv.
Fears of election fatigue appeared not to have materialised.
Turnout as of 8:00 pm (1700 GMT) was at 63.7 percent, higher than the same time during April's election, official figures showed.
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