Israel election: Benjamin Netanyahu faces poll setback
22 January 2013
Exit polls from Israel's election suggest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing alliance has lost ground to centre-left parties.
As voting ended at 20:00 GMT, they predicted a narrow majority for Mr Netanyahu's Likud-Beitenu and other right-wing parties.
However, a high turnout is thought to have benefited Labour and centrists,
The centre-left Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party is believed to have come second, followed by Labour.
Mr Netanyahu is expected to seek an alliance with a new nationalist party, Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home).
Supporters at Habayit Hayehudi cheered, threw confetti and waved Israeli flags when the first exit polls appeared on the huge screens at party HQ in Tel Aviv.
"There's no way we'll not be in the coalition," they shouted. They'd hoped for more seats but as newcomers on the political scene here, they see this result as a significant victory.
Habayit Hayehudi's "rockstar" party leader, ultra-nationalist, religious, high-tech whizzkid Naftali Bennett grabbed the headlines before the election with his far-right credentials but Mr Bennett insisted then he could work with anyone in a coalition, for the good of Israel.
Thirty-two parties were competing under a system of proportional representation for the 120-member Knesset. Parties must win at least 2% of the total vote to secure seats.
According to the exit polls, Likud-Beitenu would get 31 seats, and Habayit Hayehudi 12.
Yesh Atid, led by journalist-turned-politician Yair Lapid, is credited with 18 or 19 seats. Analysts say this is a stunning result for a newcomer.
Labour has also performed well, with a projected 17 seats - up from just seven in the outgoing parliament.
However if the exit polls are confirmed by official results, Mr Netanyahu would be on course to secure a third term in office - but with a majority that is both reduced and more hardline.
Likud-Beitenu's dominance on the right has been challenged by Habayit Hayehudi, led by millionaire businessman Naftali Bennett - Mr Netanyahu's former chief-of-staff.
He has advocated annexing large parts of the occupied West Bank and rejected the idea of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
The process of forming a government may take several weeks.