Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s prospects of forming a government took a turn for the worse Wednesday as evolving election results defied exit polls, leaving the Israeli premier’s Likud party with no choice but to seek support from the Arab-Islamist Ra’am in order to gain the majority needed.
Results from 97 percent of standard polling stations and more than 90 percent of the votes showed Ra’am sliding above the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent of the votes, seriously shaking up the existing formations and causing the pro-Netanyahu, rightwing bloc to slip from 61 to 59, two short of the majority needed to form a government.
In the latest results, Likud earns 30 seats; Yesh Atid 17; Shas 9; Blue and White 8; Labor 7; Yamina 7; United Torah Judaism 7; Yisrael Beytenu 7; Joint List 6; Religious Zionism 6; New Hope 6; Meretz 5; and Ra’am 5.
Exit polls from Tuesday night, which are notorious for getting it wrong, initially showed a clear 61-seat victory for Netanyahu as long as Yamina, a party headed by Naftali Bennett, would agree to join Likud and its coalition partners — Shas, United Torah Judaism, and the Religious Zionist party.
The Central Elections Committee are yet to begin tallying the remaining half a million ballots cast in special circumstances, including people in quarantine and coronavirus carriers, nursing homes, prisoners, medical workers and the military vote – the latter of which has historically worked in Likud’s favor.
Likud MKs are split about whether they would accept the Islamist Ra’am party in the coalition.
Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said there was “no way” Ra’am would be part of the government, saying Israel would head to a fifth election if a government could not be formed. However, Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi said “in the current situation, we view [Ra’am head] Mansour Abbas as a potential possibility [for coalition partner].”
Likud MK Shlomo Karhi retorted in response, “Absolutely not!” Following the comments, Israeli media reported that Netanyahu had issued a ban on MKs speaking out on the matter.