JERUSALEM, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- With more than 99 percent of the vote counted, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will be tasked with forming the next government, officials said.
"It is a great honor, but it is also a great responsibility. It is an opportunity to make changes that the citizens of Israel wish upon themselves, and that will serve all the citizens of Israel," Netanyahu said in remarks broadcast by Israeli television. "I intend on making those changes by forming the broadest coalition possible, and I have begun working toward that tonight."
Early Wednesday results of Israel's elections for the 19th Knesset released by the Central Elections Committee showed Netanyahu's Likud-Beitenu slate had done worse than predicted, winning 31 seats, 11 fewer than the 42 held by the two parties in the last Parliament, Israeli media reports said.
Netanyahu came under harsh criticism from within his own party for merging with former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's party prior to the elections. Critics suggested had he run alone, the number of seats would have been higher, The Jerusalem Post said.
Former journalist and political newcomer Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party was the the second biggest winner with 19 seats, the Labor Party 15, the Jewish Home and Shas 11 each, the orthodox United Torah Judaism seven, Tzipi Livni's Hatnua party and Meretz six each, the Arab parties UAL-Taal five, Hadash four, Balad three and Kadima the two-seat minimum, the committee said.
The committee's findings showed the left and right-wing blocs were in an even split with 60 seats apiece. Initial exit polls had given the right-wing bloc a slight majority with 61 seats to 59 for the left.
Shortly after the exit polls were published, Netanyahu telephoned Lapid to congratulate him and said the two must meet as soon as possible, television reports said.
While official election results will not be published until next Wednesday, sources close to President Shimon Peres said he is likely to summon Netanyahu to form the next government by week's end, Haaretz said.
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