Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu will likely be tasked with forming a government next week after he and his right-religious bloc appeared to have secured a resounding victory as the vote count was wrapping up on Thursday.
The Central Elections Committee had tallied some 91 percent of all ballots by the predawn hours and was expected to finish the count later in the day.
The committee will certify and finalize the results of Tuesday’s election in the coming days, barring any complications. Officially, it has until November 9 to publish the final tally. The election results can be appealed until November 23.
Once the official results are in, they will be presented to President Isaac Herzog, who will select a lawmaker to be granted the task of attempting to assemble a majority coalition and establish a government.
First, though, Herzog will need to hold consultations with every party that made it into the Knesset to determine which lawmaker to select. As of Thursday morning, 10 parties had crossed the 3.25% vote threshold, with two others, Meretz and Balad, seen likely to fall several thousand votes short.
During the meetings, which will be broadcast live from the President’s Residence, the parties will recommend a candidate for prime minister. Herzog will then assign the task of forming a government to the lawmaker he believes has the best chance of mustering a majority.
Herzog has until November 16 to announce which lawmaker he will task with forming a government, though he can do so earlier. In previous rounds, party consultations at the President’s Residence typically lasted two days. Herzog can hold an additional round of consultations if deemed necessary, but most expect the process to be a technicality, with parties representing a majority of up to 65 seats poised to give Netanyahu the nod.
Once he has a candidate, Herzog will inform the Knesset speaker of his decision, and the speaker will relay the announcement to the Knesset.
That will start a 28-day clock for negotiations to form a government. If the candidate needs more time, they can ask Herzog for a one-time extension of 14 days.
If the lawmaker assigned the task is unable to form a coalition within that timeframe, or tells Herzog they cannot succeed sooner, the president may hold further consultations with party leaders, and then must grant another lawmaker the opportunity to form a government. That candidate will also have up to 42 days in total to build a coalition.
Alternatively, if the first candidate fails, Herzog can inform the Knesset speaker that he sees no possible way for anyone to form a coalition. If that happens, a Knesset majority can ask Herzog to assign the task to another lawmaker within 21 days.
If a majority of lawmakers do not select another candidate within the 21-day timeframe, or if the Knesset’s candidate of choice fails, the Knesset will dissolve itself and Israel will head back to another round of elections within 90 days.
The Knesset would also get the same window should a second candidate be given a chance and fail.
Once he has a name, Herzog will have two days to give the task to that lawmaker, who will then have two weeks to build a coalition.
If a lawmaker successfully forms a majority coalition at any point, they will inform Herzog and the Knesset speaker, who by law has up to a week to schedule the Knesset confidence vote in the new government. The candidate must present the composition of the government’s members and the distribution of its ministers.
Netanyahu’s bloc is projected to win 65 seats, giving the former prime minister a comfortable majority to form a government in the 120-seat Knesset.
His expected coalition will include the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, and the far-right Religious Zionism, which includes the extremist Otzma Yehudit faction.
Media reports Wednesday night indicated that Netanyahu was aiming to have a government in place and a Knesset speaker sworn in by November 15, in order to eject his rival Prime Minister Yair Lapid from power as quickly as possible.
That timetable appeared unlikely to pan out, though. Coalition negotiations typically take weeks or longer, and while Netanyahu was backed throughout the election campaign by his political allies, he will still need to haggle with the parties over policy goals and cabinet posts to secure their support, which could include complicated negotiations in areas where the factions have far-reaching demands or do not see eye-to-eye.
Israel has been rocked by political turmoil since a Netanyahu-led government fell apart in late 2018. Two rounds of elections, in April 2019 and September 2019, failed to yield a winner after Netanyahu and other candidates were unable to form a coalition, and a short-lived unity government he formed with Defense Minister Benny Gantz after the third vote in March 2020 collapsed after less than a year.
The current coalition, formed last year after additional March 2021 elections, ousted Netanyahu from power after 12 years but only lasted 17 months.
Up until the current political crisis that began in 2019, no candidate tasked by the president with forming a government had ever failed to do so within the initial time limit.