Counting of final votes set to begin; Likud lead over Blue and White shrinks
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Likud on 35, Blue and White on 32

Counting of final votes set to begin; Likud lead over Blue and White shrinks

Updated results from election committee see right-wing bloc drop to 58 seats; Gantz claims Netanyahu ordered his party to interfere with tally of so-called double envelope ballots

Illustrative: Israelis count the remaining ballots from soldiers and absentees at the parliament in Jerusalem, a day after the general elections, April 10, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Illustrative: Israelis count the remaining ballots from soldiers and absentees at the parliament in Jerusalem, a day after the general elections, April 10, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The Central Elections Committee was set to begin counting the final ballots, as it announced late Tuesday that almost all of the votes cast in the elections had been tallied, with the Likud-led right wing bloc down to 58 seats, still short of a majority.

The committee said votes from 10,552 polling places across the country were counted, 99 % of the voting stations that were open during Monday’s elections, accounting for about 93 % of the total vote.

The latest results from the election committee had Likud as the largest party with 35 seats, a drop of one seat from earlier in the day.

The updated results continued to give Blue and White 32 seats, while the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties rose one seat to 16.

The rest of the parties’ seat totals remained the same: 10 for Shas, seven for United Torah Judaism, seven for Yisrael Beytenu, seven for Labor-Gesher-Meretz and six for Yamina.

Based on those seat totals, Likud and its allies would have 58 seats combined, a one seat decrease from earlier results. The bloc needs 61 seats to form a government.

The counting of the so-called double envelopes ballots of soldiers, diplomats, handicapped citizens, hospital patients and staff, and prisoners was to begin overnight.

Elections officials record ballots cast by Israelis under coronavirus quarantine, March 3, 2020. (Courtesy/Central Elections Committee)

Late Tuesday hazmat-clad officials also unsealed and counted ballots cast by Israelis who could be carrying the coronavirus.

Some 4,076 Israelis under quarantine cast votes Monday in specially constructed isolation voting booths manned by medics in protective gear doubling as election officials.

Before the tally began, the Blue and White party claimed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered observers from his Likud party at the committee to interfere in the count.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz ordered the party’s representatives to the committee to intensify their observation efforts as a result, according to the party.

“MK Avi Nissenkorn, the faction chairman, has now been called to oversee from up close the work of the Central Elections Committee to ensure the counting is carried out in properly and without intentional disruptions,” Blue and White said in a statement.

The party did not provide any evidence to back up its claim against Netanyahu.

A composite image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Benny Gantz at polling stations in Jerusalem and Rosh Haayin, respectively, during the Knesset Elections on March 2, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL, AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Monday’s election was largely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu, who will go on trial later this month for bribery, fraud and breach of trust but is thought to be seeking support for a legislative mechanism to grant him immunity.

Despite a jubilant victory party and proclamations of victory from supporters, exit polling and preliminary result numbers showed he would likely come up shy of a needed 61-seat majority.

Gantz admitted to supporters early Tuesday that the party’s showing was disappointing, but refused to concede.

He later appeared to rule out joining a unity government led by Netanyahu, narrowing the premier’s options to form a coalition.

Netanyahu could attempt to bring in the secularist Yisrael Beytenu, which looks set to once again play kingmaker. He’ll be helped by the prospect of continued deadlock and a fourth election, seen as a doomsday scenario, but one that is increasingly realistic.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at the party headquarters in Modi’in, on elections night, March 2, 2020. (Sraya Diamant/ Flash90)

Party head Avigdor Liberman vowed Monday he would not join a Likud-led government that includes ultra-Orthodox parties, but he has also refused to join a coalition with the Arab-led Joint List.

“We won’t move a millimeter from what we promised our voters,” he said.

Despite the strong showing for the Joint List, its leader Ayman Odeh expressed concerns that Netanyahu could still cobble together a coalition, calling the prospect a “dark future.”

The election marked another setback for the once mighty Labor party, which governed the country for its first three decades. The party’s alliance was projected to get just six or seven seats, making it one of the smallest factions in parliament.

Naftali Bennett, leader of the nationalist Yamina alliance, hailed Likud’s victory as a win for plans to annex areas of the West Bank.

“With God’s help today, the Israeli sovereignty [over the West Bank] government has been established.”

Top Palestinian official Saeb Erekat echoed Bennett’s statement, albeit from a place of alarm.

“Settlement, annexation and apartheid have won the Israeli elections,” he said after exit polls were released.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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