Exit Polls: Netanyahu List Stumbles in Election as Centrists Surge

Shas Seen as Kingmaker Again as Narrow Results Leave No Obvious Coalition

by Jason Ditz, January 22, 2013

The official final results aren’t expected until tomorrow, but the polls have closed for Israel’s parliamentary election, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beiteinu list continuing to stumble, and projected at 31 seats, a huge loss for a pair of parties that holds 42 seats in the outgoing Knesset.

The projections from different polling outlets all show roughly the same thing: that projections of major gains for extremely far-right Jewish Home didn’t materialize, while Yesh Atid, the brand new centrist party, surged far beyond any projections, winning 18-19 seats and the spot of number two party.

While the final results could swing a seat or two this way or that, it seems clear that neither the far-right bloc nor the center-left are going to have a 61 seat majority by themselves, and the Ultra-Orthodox parties, particularly Shas, are once again in the position of king-maker, able to break the virtual tie and install whichever side offers them the most.

This is going to be a difficult sell either way, as Likud-Beiteinu and Jewish Home both seemed to go out of their way to alienate the religious right, with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman constantly questioning their loyalty, and Jewish Home leader Bennett blasting Shas repeatedly in the hopes of taking votes from them.

Shas ran an extremely ugly campaign, and repeatedly had to withdraw advertisements that were overtly racist against Africans and Russian Jews. Still, in the end they got that same 10-11 seats they always get, and that’s going to be good enough to make them a major power broker.

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