UTJ plans to appeal final vote count after losing seat by a reported 68 votes
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UTJ plans to appeal final vote count after losing seat by a reported 68 votes

After dropping from 8 to 7 seats, ultra-Orthodox party laments that official election results were determined ‘in a short timeframe’

United Torah Judaism leaders Yaakov Litzman (R) and Moshe Gafni (L) speak to the press at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on September 23, 2019, after consulting with President Reuven Rivlin on which lawmaker should be tasked with forming the next government after the September 17 elections. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
United Torah Judaism leaders Yaakov Litzman (R) and Moshe Gafni (L) speak to the press at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on September 23, 2019, after consulting with President Reuven Rivlin on which lawmaker should be tasked with forming the next government after the September 17 elections. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party announced Wednesday that it plans to contest the official election results after a final vote count saw it lose a seat to the Likud party.

In the final tally from last week’s elections, UTJ dropped from eight seats to seven, while Likud rose from 31 to 32 seats.

The change was due to just 68 votes, according to the Ynet news site.

“The short time frame for the decision, the minor difference in votes and the fact there is a lack of important data to determine the final result bring us to consider filing an appeal,” UTJ said in a statement.

The Central Elections Committee said the amended results came after an investigation uncovered several instances of apparent election fraud.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hosted by Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party (left), at a meal to celebrate the birth of Litzman’s grandson, June 18, 2017. (Shlomi Cohen/FLASH90)

Despite the extra seat, Likud remains a seat behind challenger Blue and White, and the new tally does not shift the balance of power between the rival blocs headed by Likud’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White’s Benny Gantz.

Netanyahu has been endorsed as preferred prime minister by 55 MKs from his own party, UTJ, Shas and Yamina . Gantz has the backing of 54 MKs from his own party, center-left allies, and much of the Joint List.

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, whose party has eight seats, did not recommend either Netanyahu or Gantz as prime minister and holds the balance of power between the blocs.

In its late-night announcement of the amended results, the committee said the change came following a thorough investigation that found “real evidence of apparent vote tampering” in six polling stations.

Israelis voted at more than 10,000 polling stations in the September 17 elections.

Central Elections Committee chairman Justice Hanan Melcer decided that votes cast in those six polling stations, mostly in Arab and Druze communities, would not be included in the results.

Melcer presented the final results on Wednesday to President Reuven Rivlin, who is now charged with selecting a lawmaker to form the next government.

President Reuven Rivlin (R) receives the official results from the elections for the 22nd Knesset from Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, the head of the Central Elections Committee, at his official residence in Jerusalem on September 25, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Complicating Rivlin’s task is that neither Gantz nor Netanyahu has a clear path to a viable 61-plus coalition, and though Blue and White won more seats than Likud, Netanyahu has more lawmakers recommending he get first crack at building the first coalition.

Rivlin has encouraged Gantz and Netanyahu to try to reach a unity government but an agreement over who would lead such a coalition remains elusive.

The two are set to meet at Rivlin’s official residence Wednesday evening and reports said the president is expected to task Netanyahu with forming the next coalition unless there is progress in unity talks with Gantz.

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