12 Feb 2009

Israeli rivals battle for power after tight vote

3:01 pm on 12 February 2009

Leaders of Israel's two largest political parties are locked in a battle for power after a tight election result.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and hawkish ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu have opened talks with potential coalition partners.

Ms Livni's centrist Kadima party won 28 seats in the 120-member parliament, just one ahead of Mr Netanyahu's Likud party, leaving the country facing political uncertainty.

Israeli President Shimon Peres must now decide whether to call on Ms Livni or Mr Netanyahu, who then has 42 days to form a government.

An official election tally is due out by 18 February after which the president would have a week to make his nomination.

The far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, which surged to third place in the ballot with its demand to test the loyalties of Israeli Arabs, emerged as a potential kingmaker.

Its leader Avigdor Lieberman met both the Kadima and Likud leaders on Wednesday, appearing to favour Mr Netanyahu, though he deferred any decision. Another linchpin party, the conservative Shas, held it own talks with the Likud.