(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Eli Yishai’s Yahad party failed to cross the electoral threshold in all three of the major exit polls conducted by Channels 1, 2 and 10, providing the major drama and surprise of the elections in the haredi political arena.
Yishai split dramatically from his former political home Shas in December to set up Yahad, which united with the hard-right, ultra-nationalist Otzma Yehudit party, but despite all opinion polls in the last two weeks predicting the party would enter the Knesset, Yahad looks set to miss out.
Shas looks likely to come out of the elections with its pride intact and its political future slightly less endangered, with all three exit polls giving the party seven seats.
Shas’s results will be seen as a significant achievement for the embattled Deri, despite dropping four seats from its last Knesset representation, especially in light of Yishai’s failure, should the exit polls accurately reflect the final results.
Activists and supporters at Shas rejoiced at the results, despite the drop in Shas’s political strength, because the party managed to achieve a result that does not have the appearance of a catastrophic collapse, despite the damaging videos and allegations that emanated during the campaign.
Deri will now be able to put behind him the strife and political embarrassment he suffered during the campaign, having defeated his bitter rival, Yishai.
United Torah Judaism was predicted to take six seats by Channels 1 and 2, and seven seats by Channel 10’s exit poll.
The initial results would seem to point to electoral damage to UTJ – which in the last Knesset took seven seats - due to the internal conflict with a renegade haredi faction that officially boycotted the election.
In terms of the overall haredi political showing, the defeat of Yahad and the weakening of Shas means that haredi political strength has declined significantly from the last election when Shas and UTJ combined held 19 Knesset seats.
The two parties now seem set for between 13 and 15 seats, still representing a large bloc of tempting mandates to attract the leaders of both political camps, Right and Left.
According to a senior Shas source, both Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Deri within half an hour of the release of the first exit polls, and offered to start coalition negotiations. Deri, the source said, postponed the conversations till Wednesday.