Even with 99% of today's ballots tallied, the identity of Israel's next prime minister is anyone's guess. The tight race between Kadima's Tzipi Livni and the Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu will now be determined by President Shimon Peres, who is required to task one of the candidates with forming a new government.
Kadima managed to secure 28 mandates while the Likud won 27, with a mere 36,000 votes separate between the two. Netanyahu's chances at consolidating a relatively cohesive right-wing coalition are undeniably stronger than Livni's coalition-building options.
The official results also confirmed that Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu with its 15 mandates has ousted Labor as the third-largest political party, while Labor under Defense Minister Ehud Barak only managed to scrape 13 mandates. Shas has preserved its power, holding on to its 11 seats and United Torah Judaism received 5 mandates. Hadash, United Arab List – Ta'al and the National Union won 4 mandates while Meretz, Habayit Hayehudi and Balad received 3.
The only ballots yet to be counted are those of IDF soldiers, mariners and Israeli representatives abroad. Their votes will be tallied over the course of the coming days.
The results were confirmed by the Central Elections Committee in Jerusalem. As of 4:30 am on Wednesday the committee is still missing the ballots of four polling stations. 64 additional stations will have to repeat the election process. Other ballots yet to be counted are those of IDF soldiers, mariners and Israeli representatives abroad. Their votes will be tallied over the course of the coming days.
Success has many fathers
Both Livni and Netanyahu told their respective supporters that they would be the next prime minister. Greeting hundreds of party supporters in Tel Aviv, Livni called on chief rival Netanyahu to be part of a national unity government under her leadership as premier.
"Before the elections I offered you to join a national unity government led by me to take on the challenges facing the State of Israel. You declined and said the people must choose. Today the people have chosen – Kadima," Livni said.
Netanyahu however saw things very differently. "The Israeli people have spoken loud and clear, our way has triumphed and we will lead with it," said Netanyahu, going on to say he was confident he would be the one tasked with forming a "large, stable government."
"The national camp led by the Likud has clearly won the edge," said Netanyahu. "The question is not what the polls say, but what the reality does. In the outgoing Knesset, if you recall, the national camp only had 50 mandates, and today it has won an absolute majority.
Meanwhile Yisrael Beiteinu's Lieberman said that his party "had set the agenda of this year's election" and vowed to continue shaping the national agenda in accordance with that. Addressing the fact that his
party may be the deciding factor as to whether Livni or Netanyahu forms a coalition, Lieberman claimed that Yisrael Beiteinu "had determined the agenda of this year's election - citizenship and loyalty."
Labor Chairman Ehud Barak was considerably more somber on Tuesday as the extent of his party's loss at the ballot became evident. Flanked only by MKs Eitan Cabel and Shalom Simchon Barak conceded defeat. Addressing Labor supporters shocked by the tremendous blow dealt to the left-wing bloc, Barak said he was not stepping down from his position, but also did not make any statements alluding Labor intends to lead the opposition.