Jan 23 2013
Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to stay on as prime minister but in a weakened position after the Israeli elections.
Exit polls showed his hardline Likud-Yisrael Beitenu electoral group dropped from 42 to 31 seats, but remains the largest faction in the 120-member parliament.
Together with other hardline parties, he appeared to command a slight majority. But the balance between his political camps and the centre-left could change as the votes are counted.
The biggest surprise was the strong showing of Yesh Atid, or There Is A Future, a new centrist party that exit polls suggest won 19 seats. Led by former TV presenter Yair Lapid, it demands an end to blanket military draft exemptions and government stipends for ultra-Orthodox Jews.
The party, which represents secular, middle-class interests, appears to be doing much better than opinion polls had projected and could be the second-largest party in parliament. The centrist Labor Party, which focused on domestic issues, won 15 seats.
The pro-settler Jewish Home, a small fringe party in the outgoing parliament, jumped to 11 seats, according to exit polls. It represents modern Orthodox Jews, and has surged in the polls on the back of the appeal of its charismatic leader, high-tech millionaire Naftali Bennett.
Shas, founded in the early 1980s by ultra-Orthodox Jews of Middle Eastern origin who felt marginalised, has won about 12 seats, according to exit polls.
Hatnua, the party of former foreign minister Tzipi Livni was formed less than two months ago to present an alternative to voters worried by the stalemate in peacemaking during Mr Netanyahu's four-year tenure. Mr Livni has promised an aggressive push for peace with the Palestinians, and the exit polls suggest the party took six seats.
In trying to piece together a majority coalition government, a weakened Mr Netanyahu might be forced to offer concessions to the Palestinians to restart peace negotiations, such as a freeze in settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Traditionally, the leader of the largest party gets the first attempt at forming a coalition government, but party leaders could also ask Israel's president to assign the job to another candidate they agree on. The politician given the task would have six weeks to form a coalition.