Polls closed on Israel’s third election in less than 12 months with all major exit polls giving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the edge, but still no clear governing majority.

The right-wing bloc, including Netanyahu’s Likud party and far-right Yamina was shown to have received 60 mandates, leaving it just one short of the 61 needed to control the Knesset.

The Likud Party is projected to win 36-37 of the 120 Knesset seats and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party projected to win 32-33 seats.

Netanyahu tweeted “thank you” and a red heart emoji. “It’s a huge victory for Israel,” he added.

The Likud party and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party had failed to gain majorities or form stable coalitions in two previous elections in April and September 2019. 

Polling went ahead amid the coronavirus epidemic that has seen 5,600 Israelis self-quarantine in the country with special stations being erected.

Turnout appeared to be high despite fears over voter fatigue. The election commission reported 56.3% of eligible voters had cast ballots by 6 p.m. (1600 GMT, 11 a.m. EST), the highest turnout by that time of the day since 1999.

President Reuvin Rivlin called the campaign “awful and grubby,” adding that the Jewish state does not “deserve this never-ending instability” and that he felt a “sense of deep shame.”

Coronavirus polling stations

A total of 16 special coronavirus polling stations were erected with those under quarantine meeting staff in full protective suits and masks. Voters were required to wash their hands and wear gloves before casting their ballots, presenting their ID cards to election officials separated by plastic sheets.

“The corona thing is completely under control.Today we’ve taken all the precautions that are necessary. People can go and vote with complete confidence,” Netanyahu said after casting his ballot in Jerusalem.

Voters head to the polls wearing facemasks

Voters in Israel’s third election were required to wash their hands before casting their ballots

Voter fatigue?

There was little fanfare for the vote with an absence of campaign posters on the street as well as political campaigns. 

On Monday, the Blue and White party said it had observed “low voter turnout” in stronghold areas, issuing “urgent instructions” for party leaders to mobilize supporters.

Netanyahu on Twitter also warned of an “emergency” following “low voting” in several of his strongholds. 

Why has Israel had so many elections?

Both Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc that includes his Likud party and Gantz’s center-left bloc each fell short of the necessary 61 (of 120) Knesset seats required to form a coalition government in the last two elections. The parties failed to form stable coalitions with other smaller parties.

A further political stalemate could damage Israel’s economy as its 2020 budget is still pending, awaiting a government to give it the go-ahead.

Netanyahu is set to appear before a trial to face corruption charges, beginning March 17.

kmm/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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