NRP, NU mks shake hands.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
After months of anticipation over the merger of the two major right-wing religious parties in Israel, the National Union and National Religious Party were stunned Tuesday night by exit polls that showed them losing from their strength in the last Knesset, and the unequivocal failure of the Right to attain enough votes to block an Olmert-led government.
Unofficial exit polls on three Israeli television channels showed the National Union-NRP winning between eight and nine seats in the election, lower than the 10 seats the two parties had separately in the last Knesset, and significantly less than the 12 to 15 seats that party officials had been hoping for following their long-planned merger.
The disappointment on the Right was intensified by the fact that the right-wing parties combined with the religious parties fell far short of attaining a blocking majority of 61 seats that would have prevented Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert from carrying out his planned large scale withdrawal from the West Bank.
"It is true that we expected a lot more," said MK Zevulun Orlev at the party's campaign headquarters, where a hushed silence followed the 10 p.m. television announcement of the results of the exit polls.
"Let us wait for the final result, and hope that there will be some surprises," said a clearly disappointed party head MK Benny Elon.
Elon and the other right-wing legislators said that they expected the party would receive at least 10 Knesset seats when the soldiers' vote is counted later this week.
But MK Effi Eitam called the exit poll results "difficult," and said that the party was on its way to the opposition.
Indeed, the exit poll results were particularly painful for the party, which had hoped the long-sought merger would greatly increase their strength.
The landmark merger between the National Union and the NRP was announced in February in the wake of massive pressure put on the two parties by leading modern Orthodox rabbis to close a deal, and came in the wake of public opinion polls which indicated that the NRP was fast fading into oblivion, barely crossing the election threshold needed to enter the Knesset.
But in Tuesday's election, the National Union-NRP was competing directly with both the Likud as well as Avigdor Lieberman's increasingly powerful Israel Beiteinu for the right-wing vote.
The National Union-NRP's attempt to reach out to the secular public at large appears to have been blunted by the fact that the party had only one secular candidate, Arye Eldad, on its joint list with a realistic chance of entering the Knesset.
Eldad said this week that if the party received less than 10 seats in the Knesset election, it would be a failure, while more than 12 would be considered a success.