Category: Politics / January 22, 2013 4:47 PM EST
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rightist Likud-Beitenu party came out on top in Israel's election on Tuesday (January 22), exit polls said, but center-left parties made surprising gains, potentially complicating coalition building.
Exit polls suggested the Israeli leader's Likud party, yoked with the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu group, would still be the biggest bloc in the 120-member assembly with 31 of the 120 seats, 11 fewer than the 42 they had in the previous parliament.
Supporters of his party embraced and cheered at a gathering in Tel Aviv, despite Netanyahu's hawkish bloc unexpectedly losing ground to resurgent canter-left challengers.
The new centrist Yesh Atid party was projected to come a surprise second, followed by the left-leaning Labor and far-right Jewish Home parties.
If the exit polls compiled by three Israeli television channels prove correct, Netanyahu would be on course to secure a third term in office, perhaps leading a hardline coalition that would promote Jewish settlement on occupied land. But his weakened showing in an election he himself called earlier than necessary could complicate the struggle to forge an alliance with a stable majority in parliament.
The projections showed right-wing parties with a combined strength of 61-62 seats against 58-59 for the centre-left.