Israel’s Netanyahu Appears to Hold Lead in Election

Israel’s Netanyahu Appears to Hold Lead in Election
Likud party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara cast their ballots during Israeli elections in Jerusalem, on Nov. 1, 2022. (Maya Alleruzzo/AP Photo)

JERUSALEM—Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to hold a narrow lead early Wednesday in Israeli elections, according to exit polls, potentially paving the way for a return to power.

The exit polls were preliminary, and the final results could change as votes are tallied.

Tuesday’s election was Israel’s fifth in less than four years, with all of them focused largely on Netanyahu’s fitness to govern. On trial for a slew of corruption charges, Netanyahu is seen by supporters as the victim of a witch hunt and vilified by opponents as a crook and threat to democracy.

The vote, like past elections, was tight. The exit polls on Israel’s three major television stations all predicted that Netanyahu and his hard-line allies would capture 61 or 62 seats in parliament, giving him the majority in the 120-seat parliament needed to govern.

But the polls showed a small Arab party close to crossing the threshold required to enter parliament—a development that could erase his slim majority.

Elections officials worked through the night tallying votes. In the early hours of Wednesday, 25 percent of the ballots had been counted, and the final outcome remained unclear.

If Netanyahu’s allies emerge victorious, it could still take weeks of negotiations for a coalition government to be formed. Continued deadlock and a new round of elections are also a possibility.

Speaking in Jerusalem in the middle of the night, Netanyahu asked his supporters to have patience and said his Likud Party was “on the verge of a very big victory.”

Netanyahu was Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, governing for 12 consecutive years—and 15 years altogether—before he was ousted last year by a coalition led by Yair Lapid.

But the coalition that Lapid cobbled together, which included the first Arab party ever to join a government, was ravaged by infighting and collapsed after just one year in power. Those parties were poised to capture just 54 seats, according to the polls.

Lapid, addressing supporters early Wednesday, insisted that the race was not decided.

“Until the last envelope is counted, nothing is over and nothing is final,” he said.

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