Israeli exit polls show Netanyahu ahead, but short of majority

Israel’s embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced an uncertain path to staying in office on Tuesday, even as preliminary results showed his Likud party pulling ahead of its opponents in the country’s third election in less than a year.

Exit polls on Israeli TV stations showed Likud and its allies capturing 59 seats out of the 120 in parliament. That would still put Likud and its ultra-religious and nationalist bloc short of the parliamentary majority required to form a government.

With roughly 90 per cent of votes already counted, Netanyhau’s bloc looked to be maintaining its lead. Final results are expected to be announced later Tuesday and could swing Netanyahu over the top — two weeks before he goes on trial to face corruption charges.

But if the official results match the exit polls, and Netanyahu’s camp is unable to draw in defectors from the opposing camp, Israel’s prolonged political gridlock could continue with the prospect of a fourth election.

The uncertainty didn’t stop Netanyahu from declaring victory early Tuesday in front of a raucous crowd of supporters.

“This is a victory against all the odds, because we stood against powerful forces,” he said. “They already eulogized us. Our opponents said the Netanyahu era is over.”

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