Israeli Prime Minister and the leader of Likud Benjamin Netanyahu (R) greets supporters as the Leader of Yisrael Beiteinu Avigdor Lieberman (L) standing beside him in Tel Aviv on Jan. 22, 2013. Exit polls conducted by three major Israeli broadcasters Tuesday evening showed that the right-wing union led by incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gained a narrow lead in the country's early parliamentary elections. (Xinhua/Yin Dongxun)
by Anat Shalev
TEL AVIV, Israel, Jan. 23 (Xinhua) -- The right-wing union led by incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gained a narrow lead in Tuesday's early parliamentary elections, while a newly-established center party came as the second largest party in the new legislature.
The joint Likud-Beytenu party was set to receive 31 seats in the 120-member unicameral Knesset (parliament), after 99 percent of the votes were counted as of Wednesday.
A big surprise from the vote, however, was the emergence of the centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, which received an expected 19 seats in the next parliament.
The party, launched in April 2012 by former TV anchor Yair Lapid, surpassed the center-left Labor party, which received only 17 seats.
After the exit polls, Netanyahu said he would work to create the "widest possible government" amid challenges faced by the Jewish state.
"The elections are behind us and the challenges are in front of us, including the Iranian nuclear threat, the economic crisis and the conflict with the Palestinians," he said at his party headquarters in Tel Aviv.
"We would like to join hands with as many political partners as possible to work and solve those challenges," Netanyahu added.
However, the prime minister's party suffered a major blow with the loss of an expected 20 percent of its electoral power. According to several news outlets, senior Likud members expressed grave disappointment over the results.
Meanwhile, Lapid said in a speech at his party headquarters that Israelis are obviously seeking unity.
"We feel the huge responsibility that has been put upon us tonight and we won't let our voters down once we're in the Knesset. We won't forget them," he said.
Lapid added that Israeli citizens "said no to politics of fear, hatred and divide" and are calling for unity within the country.
The predicted loss of the once dominant Labour party, led by Shelly Yachimovich, means that it is unlikely to form the next government.
But Yachimovich refused to give up in a speech at her party headquarters, saying she would do "whatever she can" to try and form an "alternative government" to that of the extreme right-wing.
"We still don't have the final results, so it's not at all clear yet if Netanyahu would be able to form a coalition," she said.
The exit polls also showed that the ultra-right Jewish Home party and the ultra-Orthodox Shas received 12 seats, respectively. The left-wing Meretz got six seats while the centrist Hatnua won six to seven.
Yehuda Ben Meir, director of the Institute for National Security Studies, said at a press briefing that the results showed a shift by Israelis to the center.
"Lapid's party is clearly a center party. There's no right or left anymore. Lapid cut across them as he pulled in voters from the right and from the left as well," Ben Meir said.
Netanyahu was more likely to become the next prime minister thanks to a slight edge to his right-wing bloc, he added, saying the incumbent prime minister would seek the support of Yesh Atid and other center parties and form a wider coalition.
"I believe Lapid's party will be the senior partner of the Likud...," he said. "If that proves to be the case, we can expect a strong shift to a more central, mainstream approach in Netanyahu's policies."
TEL AVIV, Israel, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) -- Exit polls conducted by Israel's three major Israeli broadcasters Tuesday evening showed that the right-wing union led by incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gained a narrow lead in the country's early parliamentary elections. Full story
TEL AVIV, Israel, Jan. 23 (Xinhua) -- Incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said early Wednesday morning that he will work to create a broad-based government to meet challenges including the global economic crisis, the Iranian nuclear threat and the conflict with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu made the remarks at the headquarters of his right- wing Likud-Beitenu union in Israel's biggest city, Tel Aviv, shortly after Israel's major television networks announced the results of their exit polls. Full story
TEL AVIV, Israel, Jan. 23 (Xinhua) -- Shelly Yachimovich, leader of Israel's opposition Labor party, vowed early Wednesday morning to form an alternative government to replace the current ruling coalition led by incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"Tonight could be a big opportunity to establish an alternative government to Netanyahu's government," Yachimovich said in a speech at the Labor Party's headquarters in Tel Aviv. Full story