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Exit polls suggest no clear route to government for Benjamin Netanyahu or Benny Gantz

Exit polls following Israel’s second general election in five months suggest the result is too close to call.

The centrist Blue and White alliance of former military chief Benny Gantz is projected to win between 32 and 34 seats, and PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party 31 to 33 seats.

Yisrael Beiteinu party leader Avigdor Lieberman may end up being kingmaker.

Mr Netanyahu called the snap vote after failing to form a governing coalition in the wake of an election in April.

Negotiations on the formation of a new coalition are expected to start as soon as the preliminary results come on Wednesday morning.

What are the exit polls saying?

The exit poll of Israel’s public broadcaster Kan projected that Likud and Blue and White would each win 32 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

In third place was the Israeli Arab Joint List with 12 seats; followed by Mr Lieberman’s secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party with 10; the right-wing Yamina party with seven; the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties with nine and eight respectively; and the left-wing Democratic Union and Labour-Gesher alliances with five each.

Channel 12 News put Blue and White ahead with 34 seats and Likud with 33, while Channel 13 News predicted that Blue and White would win 33 seats and Likud 31.

There was a muted response at Likud’s election night headquarters in Tel Aviv as the exit polls were released.

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Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party may end up in an even weaker position than after April’s election

Hundreds of chairs for party supporters remained empty, as activists were kept outside the hall and leaders digested the numbers.

A Likud spokesman noted that Israeli exit polls had got things wrong in the past. Last time, they underestimated the number of votes for Likud and also for some of the religious parties allied to Mr Netanyahu.

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“There is no point starting to work out a coalition based on these numbers as they will change,” Eli Hazan said.

But Blue and White was “cautiously optimistic” that Israel would get new leadership, spokeswoman Melody Sucharewicz told the Times of Israel.

What could happen next?

The BBC’s Tom Bateman says the exit polls suggest that Mr Netanyahu will be in an even weaker position than after April’s election and that he will have a mountain to climb to form a new coalition of right-wing and religious parties.

Mr Gantz could emerge as leader of the largest party, but he would have an even more complex job to form a government, our correspondent adds.

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Mr Lieberman, an ally-turned-rival of the prime minister, could be crucial in deciding who takes office.

He prevented Mr Netanyahu from forming a coalition after the last vote because he refused to back down over a longstanding dispute with religious parties over a bill governing exemptions from military service for ultra-Orthodox young men.

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Avigdor Lieberman wants a “broad, liberal, national government”

At a rally in Jerusalem on Tuesday night, Mr Lieberman reiterated a call he made during the campaign for unity government.

“We only have one option,” he told supporters. “A broad, liberal, national government made up of Yisrael Beiteinu, Likud and Blue and White.”

If the official results prove to be inconclusive, it will fall to President Reuven Rivlin to decide who gets the mandate to try to form a government. That person will have 28 days to do so, with a possible extension of not more than 14 days.

A spokesman for Mr Rivlin said he hold consultations with party representatives “after he receives a clear picture of the results, and as soon as possible”.

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