Post highest turnout in 20 yrs, Exit polls shows Netanyahu to return as PM

Last Modified Tuesday, 3 March 2020 (12:28 IST)
Netanyahu's right-wing bloc is expected to win the most seats, but fall just short of a majority. Israelis are hoping that the country's third election in less than a year will end months of political deadlock.
Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu's on Monday emerged as the largest party in the country's third parliamentary election in a less than a year, exit polls showed.
Likud is projected to win 36-37 of the 120 Knesset seats with Benny Gantz's main opposition Blue and White party on course for 32-33 seats.
 
Netanyahu's right-wing alliance — including Likud, the far-right Yamina and Orthodox parties — was shown to have received 59 seats, leaving it two seats short of the 61 needed to control the Knesset.
 
The Israeli prime minister hailed the election as a "giant" success. "This is the most important victory of my life," he told a crowd of supporters in Tel Aviv.
 
Monday's result echoes the previous iterations of the contest. Neither the Likud party nor the Blue and White partyhad secured majorities or form stable coalitions in two previous elections in April and September 2019. 
 
President Reuvin Rivlin called the campaign "awful and grubby," adding that the Jewish state does not "deserve this never-ending instability" and that he felt a "sense of deep shame."
 
Coronavirus polling stations
 
Polling went ahead amid the coronavirus epidemic that has seen 5,600 Israelis self-quarantine in the country with special stations being erected.
 
A total of 16 special coronavirus polling stations were erected with those under quarantine meeting staff in full protective suits and masks. Voters were required to wash their hands and wear gloves before casting their ballots, presenting their ID cards to election officials separated by plastic sheets.
 
"The corona thing is completely under control.Today we've taken all the precautions that are necessary. People can go and vote with complete confidence," Netanyahu said after casting his ballot in Jerusalem.
 
Voter fatigue?
 
Turnout appeared to be high despite fears over voter fatigue. The election commission reported 56.3% of eligible voters had cast ballots by 6 p.m. (1600 GMT, 11 a.m. EST), the highest turnout by that time of the day since 1999.
 
However, there was little fanfare ahead of the vote with an absence of campaign posters on the street as well as political campaigns.
 
Final results are expected on Wednesday evening. 
 
A further political stalemate could damage Israel's economy as its 2020 budget is still pending, awaiting a government to give it the go-ahead.
 
Netanyahu is set to appear before a trial to face corruption charges, beginning March 17.