Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and right wing rival Benjamin Netanyahu both claimed victory early Wednesday in the parliamentary election, but official results showed a close race. Right-wing parties, including Netanyahu's Likud Party, have won a clear majority of 65 seats in the 120-seat house, which would give Netanyahu the upper hand in forming the next government.
However, with 99.7 percent of the votes counted, Livni's centrist Kadima Party had 28 seats, while Likud had 27. Those results could change by a seat or two when soldiers' votes are tallied Thursday evening.
It appeared ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman, who based his campaign on denying citizenship to Israeli Arabs he considers disloyal, could determine the country's next leader with his decision of whom to join. According to the AP, he declared after the vote that he spoken to both Livni and Netanyahu and told them he could be persuaded to join either one, but he added that he wanted a "nationalist right-wing government."
"With God's help, I will lead the next government," Netanyahu told his cheering crowd in Tel Aviv. "The national camp, led by the Likud, has won a clear advantage."
Soon after, Livni took the stage before her supporters and flashed a V for victory sign. "Today the people chose Kadima. ... We will form the next government led by Kadima."
In his speech, Netanyahu told his supporters that he was proud of the gains by his party. He called for a broad-based coalition, but said he would first turn to his "natural partners in the national camp."
The partial results marked a dramatic slide for Netanyahu, who had held a solid lead in opinion polls heading into the election.
The partial results gave Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu Party 16 seats, placing it in third place behind Kadima and Likud and ahead of Labor.