Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to secure a solid parliamentary majority in Israel’s election, according to TV exit polls early on Wednesday which predicted no clear winner.
The right-wing bloc led by Netanyahu’s Likud party had a slight edge but was in a tight race with a grouping of center, left and right-wing parties looking to unseat him.
Who are the main players?
Netanyahu is the most dominant Israeli politician of his generation. He campaigned on Israel’s world-beating COVID-19 vaccine rollout, but also ran under a cloud of corruption allegations. A polarizing figure, he has denied all wrongdoing in his corruption trial which is set to resume in April.
In the last three elections he faced rivals from the left. But this time he was also up against right-wing contenders. And while his stewardship of the vaccination campaign drew praise, critics accuse him of mismanaging the pandemic during lockdowns that hit Israel’s economy hard.
Yair Lapid, 57, a former finance minister and TV host who leads the center-left party Yesh Atid - “There is a Future”.
His party is predicted to come second. Lapid campaigned to “bring sanity” back to Israel with clean government and moderate leadership. He hopes to achieve what seems almost impossible and unite half a dozen disparate parties from across the political spectrum. All want to see Netanyahu removed but are not obvious bedfellows.
Naftali Bennett, 48, a former Netanyahu aide, defense minister and high-tech millionaire who heads the ultra-hawkish Yamina party and is vying to be the next leader of the Israeli right.
Though his party is predicted to take only 7 seats, Bennett has positioned himself as a potential king-maker, refusing to commit to Netanyahu or against him. Some analysts believe he is more likely to back his fellow conservative, Netanyahu.
Gideon Saar, 54, a former cabinet minister who quit Likud to set up the New Hope party, vowing to end Netanyahu’s reign.
Like Likud his party opposes Palestinian statehood. Saar’s campaign centered on clean government and jump-starting the economy. New Hope is predicted to win only about 6 seats but he is seen as a highly-skilled politician in the anti-Netanyahu camp who could perhaps help bring together factions from across the left-right spectrum.
What about the actual results?
The final tally is expected by Friday, but the numbers are updated as vote-counting proceeds, so a clearer picture will emerge as exit polls give way to results.