Israeli election ends in dramatic deadlock as 99% of votes tallied

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Israel’s right-wing and center-left blocs have won an equal share of the country’s 120-seat parliament with 99.5 percent of votes counted, the Israeli Central Elections Committee said on Wednesday.

According to the committee’s website, right-wing parties, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s list, took 60 seats, and center-left parties, including Arab factions, won 60 seats in the legislative elections held on Tuesday.

That puts Netanyahu on course for a third term in office, this could lead to an increase in Jewish settlements on occupied land as has been his steadfast policy thus far.

Tuesday’s vote was the first in Israel since Arab uprisings swept the region two years ago, reshaping the Middle East.

Netanyahu claimed his impending win at midnight on Tuesday , saying “I am proud to be your prime minister and I thank you for giving me the opportunity, for the third time, to lead the State of Israel,” as quoted by Haaretz.

“Based on the results in the exit polls, it’s clear the citizens of Israel determined they want me to continue as prime minister, and that I form a government as wide as possible,” Netanyahu said, adding that he would immediately begin “efforts to form a government which was as broad as possible.”

Netanyahu’s weakened showing in the ballot, which he had called nine months early in the hope of a strong mandate for his struggle with Iran, could complicate his efforts to forge an alliance with a stable and substantial majority in parliament.

Voting stations across Israel and Israeli settlements in the West Bank opened their doors at 05:00 GMT on Tuesday; the start of the country’s legislative elections.

The elections were widely expected to return Netanyahu to office.

The government will face old foreign policy challenges, such as the threat of Iran’s nuclear program. It will also have to deal with changes in the region caused by the Arab uprisings.

Besides this, if Netanyahu is kept in power he will have to battle stubborn domestic economic issues, moving quickly to pass a tough austerity budget in a bid to tame Israel’s deficit, while managing public discontent over the cost of living and income inequality.

Some 5.65 million Israelis are eligible to vote in the parliamentary election, with 10,132 polling stations open for 15 hours.

Polls leading up to the election have consistently projected that the joint list of Netanyahu’s Likud faction and the secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu will come out far ahead of its rivals.

The center-left opposition Labour party is expected to come in distant second, with the hardline religious nationalist Jewish Home projected to make an almost unprecedented showing and take third place.

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