Election setback for Benjamin Netanyahu, Yair Lapid emerges kingmaker

Yair Lapid

Benjamin Netanyahu-led right-wing bloc on Wednesday narrowly won a hard-fought election in which a political rookie emerged as the kingmaker, forcing the hawkish Israeli Prime Minister to look for new allies outside his battered coalition.

The results announced by the election committee after counting of 99.6 per cent votes showed that the right bloc and centre-left bloc (including Arab parties) were evenly tied at 60 each in the 120-seat Knesset (Israeli parliament), figures that defied all pre-poll forecasts that had predicted a sweeping victory for Netanyahu for the third time.

President Shimon Peres is expected to ask Netanyahu to attempt to form a new government.

His Likud-Beitenu alliance lost a quarter of its seats in parliament, but remains the largest grouping with 31.

Netanyahu, 63, has offered to work with the newly-formed Yesh Atid (There is Future) party led by Yair Lapid, which shocked observers by coming second with 19 seats.

Lapid, a 49-year-old former scribe had joined the political race only last year by forming the Yesh Atid party, which has emerged as the new kingmaker.

He is expected to play an important role in the formation of the next government.

The unexpected results have forced the 63-year-old Netanyahu to scramble for support outside his natural allies which critics feel augurs well for the Middle East peace process that he shunned during his last four years.

Netanyahu called for early elections some three months ago, buoyed by opinion polls and sensing an easy victory but a chain of events during the campaigning period saw him struggling to retain power despite forming a joint list with former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beteinu party.

The joint Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu list was able to secure a mere 31 Knesset seats, a significant drop from the 42 they together had in the previous parliament.

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