EXPLAINER: After Tight Election, What Happens Next?

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addresses his supporters on the night of the Israeli elections, at the party headquarters in Yerushalayim. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has seemingly failed to secure a solid majority in Israel‘s election, and no clear winner is seen yet.

The right-wing bloc led by Netanyahu’s Likud party has a slight edge but was in a tight race with a grouping of center, left and right-wing parties looking to unseat him.

WHO ARE THE MAIN PLAYERS?

NETANYAHU is the most dominant Israeli politician of his generation. He campaigned on Israel‘s world-beating COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

In the last three elections he faced rivals from the left. But this time he was also up against right-wing contenders. And while his stewardship of the vaccination campaign drew praise, critics accuse him of mismanaging the pandemic during lockdowns that hit Israel‘s economy hard.

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid speaks at the Yesh Atid party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on election night, on Tuesday. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

YAIR LAPID, the leader the center-left party Yesh Atid.

His party is predicted to come in second, with 17 to 19 seats. Lapid campaigned to “bring sanity” back to Israel with clean government and moderate leadership. He hopes to achieve what seems almost impossible and unite half a dozen disparate parties from across the political spectrum. All want to see Netanyahu removed but are not obvious coalition partners.

Naftali Bennett, head of Yamina party, cast his ballot at a polling station in Raanana on Tuesday. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

NAFTALI BENNETT, a former Netanyahu aide, defense minister who heads the Yamina party, and is vying to be the next leader of the Israeli right.

Though his party is predicted to take only seven seats, Bennett has positioned himself as a potential king-maker, refusing to commit to Netanyahu or against him. Some analysts believe he is more likely to back his fellow conservative, Netanyahu.

New Hope party leader Gideon Sa’ar at the New Hope party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on election night. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

GIDEON SA’AR, a former Cabinet minister who quit the Likud to set up the New Hope party, vowing to end Netanyahu’s reign.

Saar’s campaign centered on clean government and jump-starting the economy. New Hope is predicted to win only about six seats but he is seen as a highly skilled politician in the anti-Netanyahu camp who could perhaps help bring together factions from across the left-right spectrum.

WHAT ABOUT THE ACTUAL RESULTS?

The final tally is expected by Friday, but the numbers are updated as vote-counting proceeds, so a clearer picture will emerge as exit polls give way to results.

It takes a long time to count because Israel uses paper ballots and over four million Israelis voted.

A party must pass a threshold of 3.25% of the votes to enter Parliament. Around 12 parties have a real chance of qualifying.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE RESULTS ARE PUBLISHED?

President Reuven Rivlin will consult with party leaders about their preference for prime minister. By April 7 he is expected to choose the legislator with the best chance of putting together a coalition.

That nominee has up to 42 days to form a government. If he or she fails, the President asks another MK to try.

HOW LONG UNTIL A GOVERNMENT IS IN PLACE?

No party has ever won an outright majority. Coalition negotiations often drag on for weeks.