In an apparent setback for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, challenger Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White Party is slightly ahead of his Likud Party, according to exit polls.
The results posted by Israel’s three major TV stations indicated Netanyahu’s political future could also be in doubt.
According to the exit poll, the longtime Israeli leader fell short of securing a parliamentary majority with his hard-line allies in Tuesday’s election.
The three stations all showed Gantz’s centrist party slightly ahead, although his party does not have majority control in the 120-seat parliament. He needs the support of Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the midsize Yisrael Beitenu party.
Netanyahu had sought to secure a majority with his allies to secure immunity from an expected indictment on corruption charges.
The results raise the likelihood of a unity government among the three parties, but it’s unclear what part Netanyahu could take in that.
The longest serving leader in Israeli history was seeking a fourth consecutive term in office and fifth overall. But he faced a stiff challenge from Gantz.
After casting his ballot in Jerusalem, Netanyahu predicted the vote would be “very close.” Throughout the day, he frantically begged supporters to vote.
“It’s not in the bag. But if you go (vote), we will win,” Netanyahu blared through a megaphone to shoppers at a Jerusalem market after stopping at other Likud strongholds in the city.
Voting in his hometown of Rosh Haayin in central Israel, Gantz urged all Israelis to hope. “We will bring hope, we will bring change, without corruption, without extremism,” he said.
The election marks their second showdown of the year after drawing even in the previous one in April.