Israel’s polls closed at 10:00 PM and the major Israeli media exit polls [here, here and here] and initial election returns showed Tzipi Livni and Kadima with a slim 2 Knesset seat lead over the Likud and its party leader Binyamin Netanyahu.
These exit polls indicate that Kadima won 28-30 Knesset seats while the Likud garnered 27-28 Knesset seats. Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party won 14-15 seats while Ehud Barak and the Labor party showed 13 seats on all of the exit polls. Shas finished fifth winning between 9-10 seats.
However, returns at 1:35 AM (Israel time) show Kadima’s lead over Likud narrowing, with Kadima holding at 29 Knesset seats while the Likud has increased to 28 seats with Yisrael Beiteinu at 16 and Shas with 11. The National Union now shows 4 seats while Jewish Home (previously Mafdal – National Religious Party) is listed at 3 seats and UTJ at 5 seats. This gives a right-wing bloc 67 Knesset seats to 53 seats for Kadima and the other left-wing parties and the strong possibility that Netanyahu and Likud will likely be designated to form the government by President Peres.
Earlier in the evening, Ynet’s Attila Somfalvi, however writes of the possibility that the election results could compel a prime ministerial power-sharing rotation between Netanyahu and Livni recalling the rotation which followed the 1984 election between Likud’s Yitzchak Shamir and Labor’s then leader Shimon Peres. However, if the margin of right-wing bloc seats continues to hold at 67 or to build, power-sharing will be unecessary.
Recalling a previous close election, as this one appears to be, in the 1996 elections Shimon Peres maintained a lead throughout most of election night only to be overtaken by Netanyahu when the late returns were counted. Also, note that in the 1996 dual elections for prime minister and for Knesset, although Likud garnered 32 seats in that election to Labor’s 34, Netanyahu was able to build a coalition government due to a 64 seat natural right-wing bloc.
The final results will become more apparent in the morning.