Kadima, Likud claim election victory

Both Livni and Netanyahu say they will be "next PM of Israel," Barak says he'll continue leading Labor.

kadima HQ reaction election 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
kadima HQ reaction election 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
In the hours after television exit polls predicted that Kadima would win the most Knesset seats in Tuesday's general elections, both Kadima chair and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu claimed that they would be the country's next prime minister. At Likud headquarters, activists dismissed Kadima's edge and predicted Netanyahu would be tapped to form the next government. Channel 10 quoted the Likud leader as saying "I will be the next prime minister of Israel." Also reacting to the polls, Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar said, "Netanyahu will succeed in building a coalition." At Kadima's election night headquarters, meanwhile, the crowd erupted in cheers when the results came out, with some supporters jumping up and down, giving each other high fives and hugs, and screaming and whistling in the air. Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik, who served as the head of Kadima's election campaign, applauded the results of exit polls, declaring that Livni "will be the next prime minister" of Israel. In the coming days, President Shimon Peres will ask the leader who he believes is most capable of forming a coalition to try to put together a government. With a disappointing 13 Knesset seats predicted, Labor chair and Defense Minister Ehud Barak said "I will continue to lead the Labor party." Israel Beiteinu, predicted in TV exit polls to win 14 Knesset seats, will convene on Wednesday at 2 p.m. to decide which candidate to support for prime minister. The faction will then make their recommendation to Peres. According to Channel 10, Netanyahu and Israeli Beiteinu chair Avigdor Lieberman spoke on the phone following the release of the exit polls. A source in Likud was quoted as saying that Lieberman would "bleed us dry" in coalition negotiations. "It is up to Lieberman who will form the next coalition," said Menachem Hofnung, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "Lieberman has emerged as the kingmaker. He is the winner of these elections and it depends on who he sides with over the next few weeks as to who will be prime minister." Shas MK Yitzhak Cohen told Channel 10 that his party would recommend to Peres that Netanyahu be given the mandate to build a coalition for the 18th Knesset. Television exit poll predicted that Shas would win nine to ten seats in the Knesset. AP contributed to this report.