The Israeli Prime Minister , Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, was in a battle for political survival after exit polls following Tuesday’s election showed the race too close to call and the Israeli leader’s decade-long grip on power slipping.
Mr. Netanyahu’s main challenger, centrist Mr. Benny Gantz, said on Wednesday it appeared from the exit polls that Israel’s longest-serving leader was defeated but that only official results would tell.
In his own speech to right-wing Likud party faithful, Mr. Netanyahu, speaking in a hoarse voice, made no claim of victory or concession of defeat, saying he was awaiting a vote tally.
Mr. 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.
Mr. 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 the formation of a unity government.
Mr. Netanyahu, he said, apparently 'did not succeed in his mission' to win a fifth term. 'We will await the actual results,' Mr. Gantz, 60, said.
The final election results can take more than a week to be declared.