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Elections

Israeli polling stations close in national election

Polling stations have closed in Israel. Voter surveys have predicted a re-election of Likud party leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Voter surveys suggested that Israelis who voted on Tuesday would re-elect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a third term, but that he would be left with a smaller majority.

Final polls late last week showed Netanyahu's potential right-wing-religious grouping would take between 61 and 67 seats.

Netanyahu's Likud party and the hard-line secular but nationalist Yisrael Beitenu ran on the same ticket. Likud-Beitenu was predicted to be the largest single grouping in the 120-seat parliament with 32 seats.

The center-left Labor party, Likud-Beitenu's closest rival, only polled 17 percent in the survey. Its leader, Shelly Yachimovich, has ruled out the possibility of joining a Netanyahu-led government.

Premier's optimistic outlook

Speaking at a final campaign appearance in Jerusalem, Netanyahu was upbeat.

"I have no doubt that many, many people will decide at the last minute to come home to Likud-Yisrael Beitenu," he said.

To build a majority bloc, Netanyahu would need to reach out to other allies. Likud tends to be allied with rightist and religious parties.

One possibility would be to bring on board the star of the election campaign, self-made millionaire Naftali Bennett, who is leader of the far-right Jewish Home party.

The party – which aims to consolidate Israeli settlement areas in the occupied West Bank - is predicted to win 15 seats.

No single Israeli party has ever won a parliamentary majority, with the president traditionally asking the leader of the biggest bloc to try to form a governing coalition.

rc/ipj (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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