Israel election ‘too close to call’ as Benjamin Netanyahu fights for survival

Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting for political survival as the result of Israel's second general election in five months is too close to call, according to exit polls.

Polls showed the embattled Prime Minister's decade-long grip on power is slipping and he admitted he apparently "did not succeed in his mission" for a record fifth term.

His main election challenger, centrist Benny Gantz, said it appeared from the exit polls that Israel's longest-serving leader was defeated.

In his own speech to right-wing Likud party faithful, Netanyahu, sipping water frequently and speaking in a hoarse voice, made no claim of victory or concession of defeat, saying he was awaiting a vote tally.

Netanyahu's appearance in the dead of night at Likud election headquarters was a far cry from his triumphant declaration five months ago that he had won a close election.

His failure to form a government after the April ballot led to the new election on Tuesday, with official results expected to come on Wednesday morning.

He is Israel's longest-serving leader, having been in the role since 2009 with a previous term between 1996 and 1999.

Gantz, a former armed forces chief, beamed with confidence as he told a rally of his Blue and White Party that it appeared "we fulfilled our mission", and he pledged to work towards formation of a unity government.

"We will await the actual results," Gantz, 60, said in the early hours of Wednesday.

The final election results can take more than a week, but partial results are published by the Knesset – Israel's legislative body – as the vote-counting proceeds, so a clearer picture will likely emerge within a day before the final tally.

Exit polls gave Likud 30 to 33 of parliament's 120 seats, a slight drop from earlier forecasts, versus 32 to 34 for Blue and White.

Neither had enough support, at first glance, for a governing coalition of 61 legislators, and Netanyahu's ally-turned-rival, former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, emerged as a likely kingmaker as head of the far-right Yisrael Beitenu party.

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