Polls close in Israeli election

The outcome is expected to be close between Kadima and LikudCounting is under way in Israel after polls closed in the country’s snap general elections.

Results are expected to be close, with preliminary exit polls giving the ruling Kadima Party 30 seats to 29 for the opposition Likud.

Right-wing Yisrael Beitenu is forecast to be third, pushing Labour into an unprecedented fourth place.

The first official results are not expected for several hours. Final results will come within days.

Cheers erupted at Kadima’s headquarters as the exit polls were announced on Israeli TV.

Earlier, Likud spokesman Roni Rimon expressed dismay as internal polling indicated Kadima was closing the gap.

“There is a sense of a missed opportunity. We had in the past a lead of up to five or six seats over Kadima and now we are down to one,” he said.

Corruption probe

Elections were called early after Kadima leader Tzipi Livni failed to form a new government following Mr Olmert’s decision to step down last year amid a corruption probe against him.

Even if the exit polls are proved right, it does not mean Ms Livni will automatically be the next Israeli prime minister.

Israel’s president traditionally chooses the leader of the party that wins the most parliamentary seats to form a coalition government.

But he can also choose any party leader who he believes has the best chance of doing so.

President Shimon Peres is expected to hold talks with party leaders later this week, after the final results are in.

Once he has asked a party leader to form a government, he or she has up to 42 days to do so. If the coalition attempt fails, Mr Peres can ask another leader to assume the task.