Netanyahu wins polls, but barely

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

The results defied forecasts that Israel's next government would veer sharply to the right at a time when the country faces mounting international isolation, growing economic problems and regional turbulence. While that opens the door to unexpected movement on peace efforts, a coalition joining parties with dramatically divergent views on peacemaking, the economy and the military draft could just as easily be headed for gridlock, and perhaps a short life.

Israeli media said that with 99.8 per cent of votes counted, each bloc had 60 of parliament's 120 seats. Commentators said Netanyahu, who called early elections three months ago expecting easy victory, would be tapped to form the next government because the rival camp drew 12 of its 60 seats from Arab parties.

A surprising strong showing by a political newcomer, the centrist Yesh Atid, or There is a Future, party, in Tuesday's vote turned pre-election forecasts on their heads and dealt a setback to Netanyahu.

The results were not official, and there was a slim chance of a slight shift in the final bloc breakdowns and a possibility that Netanyahu would not form the next government, even though both he and the Yesh Atid's leader have called for the creation of a broad coalition.

Netanyahu's Likud-Yisrael Beitenu alliance polled strongest in Tuesday's election, winning 31 parliamentary seats. But that is still 11 fewer than the 42 it held in the outgoing parliament. Yesh Atid had been forecast to capture about a dozen seats but won 19.

Addressing supporters Wednesday, Netanyahu vowed to form as broad a coalition as possible.

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