TEL AVIV, January 23 (RIA Novosti) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud-Beitenu right-wing alliance has won general elections in Israel, gaining 31 seats in the 120-member parliament, the Knesset, exit polls compiled by three Israeli television channels suggest.
Voting ended at 22:00 local time (20:00 GMT) on Tuesday, registering a strong turnout as 32 parties competed under a system of proportional representation.
"From exit poll results, it is clear that Israelis want me to continue to serve as Prime Minister of Israel, and to form a very wide government," Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page.
Recently-formed center-left Yesh Atid party, led by journalist-turned-politician Yair Lapid, came in second with 18-19 seats.
The Labor party, which focused on social and economic issues during the three-month election campaign, secured a third place with 17 seats.
A new ultra-nationalist party, Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home), is likely to get 12 seats. The party, led by millionaire Naftali Bennett, advocates annexing large parts of the occupied West Bank and rejects the idea of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Hatnua, the party of former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni who is a proponent of direct peace talks with Palestinians, and Meretz, a longtime left-wing party, each gained seven seats.
According to political experts, Netanyahu is expected to form an alliance with Habayit Hayehudi and ultra-conservative religious parties to counter the rising popularity and influence of center-left parties.
If the results of exit polls prove to be correct, right-wing parties will have a narrow majority in the Knesset with 61-62 seats against 58-59 for the center-left.
With this outcome, the 63-year-old Israeli leader will most likely secure a third term in the office and form a coalition-based government dominated by hardliners, political analysts believe.
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