Official results of Israel’s national election began to trickle in Wednesday morning, as election officials counted the ballots of over four million Israelis who cast their votes in the national poll.
With almost 20 percent of the vote counted as of 5 a.m., Likud and Blue and White were leading the pack, as predicted by exit polls. But numbers that could give a true indication of final results were not expected until later Wednesday.
Exit polls pointed to both Likud and Blue and White facing tough paths toward building a coalition.
The counting is expected to take several hours longer than normal as the Central Election Committee introduces measures meant to safeguard against fraud and miscounts.
Last month, CEC chairwoman Orly Adas estimated a delay of “at least four to five hours” as the new measures are implemented.
The new procedures will include additional stages of reading the results at polling places and regional electoral headquarters, she said.
Authorities generally begin publishing results from polling stations before midnight on election day, with the counting continuing until the middle of the next day.
After the count, the results must still be certified, a process that often takes several days.
Exit polls by the three major television networks Tuesday night indicated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bloc of supporters was several seats short of the 61 seats needed to form a majority coalition, meaning that there would be no obvious winner in the race to the premiership.
The right-wing bloc — made up of Netanyahu’s Likud party, the religious right-wing Yamina and the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism — was predicted to get between 53 and 55 seats in the 120-member parliament. The center-left bloc was forecast to get 43-44, while the Arab parties increased their power to 13-15.
Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, which has urged a unity government with Likud and Blue and White and refused to commit to backing either side, was projected to get between eight and nine seats, up from its current five, making Liberman a potential kingmaker.
The far-right Otzma Yehudit party, which had been predicted in several opinion polls in recent weeks to pass the 3.25 percent electoral threshold, did not make it into the Knesset in any of the exit polls.
The centrist Blue and White alliance, headed by Netanyahu’s main rival Benny Gantz, was predicted to be level or slightly ahead of Likud in all three exit polls, although Gantz’s chances of forming a coalition without Likud are extremely slim.
A unity government between the two major parties continued to look like the most likely way out of the impasse, though Blue and White has insisted that Netanyahu must leave if such a coalition is formed.
Voter turnout on Tuesday outpaced voting levels from the elections earlier this year, bucking predictions of a drop in participation in the repeat poll. Turnout as polls closed was at 69.4 %, up from 68.5% in April.
Michael Bachner contributed to this report.