Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is conducting tight elections in Israel, but is still short of a government majority in the third national ballot in less than a year.
Netanyahu, head of the right-wing Likud party, got the victory in Monday’s vote over his main challenger, former centrist Blue and White chief of the armed forces Benny Gantz, after exit polls had predicted that his party would be arrived at the top.
But with nearly three quarters of the votes counted, Netanyahu appeared three seats less than the majority in the Israeli parliament, a gap indicating that there may still be a deadlock.
A victory for Netanyahu, 70, after inconclusive clashes in April and September, would be testimony to the political durability of Israel’s longtime leader, who fought the latest campaign in the shadow of an impending corruption trial.
It would also have paved the way for Netanyahu to deliver on its promise to annex Jewish settlements in the region’s occupied West Bank and Jordan Valley after the election, as part of a peace plan presented by U.S. President Donald Trump.
The Palestinians rejected the proposal.
With around 72% of the votes counted, Likud led Blue and White from 35 to 32 seats. Together with the right-wing and religious parties, Netanyahu was able to build a 58-seat coalition, short of a majority in the 120-seat parliament.
Unless things change while counting the remaining votes, another round of complicated political negotiations is expected.
In previous elections in September, Blue and White overtook Likud, taking 33 seats from 32 rivals, but Gantz, like Netanyahu, was unable to put together a coalition in power.
The mostly Arab party on the Joint List has emerged again as the third party, apparently rising to 17 seats from 13 in the last election.
Netanyahu campaigned vigorously on his strong man “security first” platform, familiar to Israeli voters for decades, and his loyal blue-collar voter base remained firmly behind him all the time, apparently not surprised by the his impending trial.
Gantz, in a speech at his party’s election headquarters, stopped conceding defeat, saying that the election could lead to another stalemate.
Netanyahu’s reelection offer was complicated by his accusation of bribery, breach of trust and fraud on charges that granted millions of dollars worth of state favors to Israeli media barons in exchange for favorable media coverage and which he received unfairly gifts.
The first trial for a prime minister sitting in Israel is expected to begin on March 17. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.