Jerusalem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu`s Likud party raced to victory in Israel`s general election, with results showing a clear lead over its rivals.
President Reuven Rivlin will have to decide within days which leader has the best chance of forming a government after Tuesday`s election.
Israel`s proportional voting system means that Likud, which won 30 of the Knesset`s 120 seats, fell far short of the 61 necessary for an outright majority.
The leader who will be prime minister will therefore need to cobble together a coalition cabinet.
Under Israeli law, the final election results must be published within eight days of the vote, with the Central Elections Committee saying they would be published on Thursday.
From that point, Rivlin then has seven days to entrust one party leader with the job of forming the next government.
"The president has made clear that Israel needs a government as soon as possible, and therefore is keen to begin consulting with the parties` representatives as soon as possible," a spokesman for his office told AFP.
The president`s appointee then has 28 days to build a coalition although Rivlin can extend the deadline by another 14 days if necessary.
If a coalition still fails to emerge, he can assign another party leader to the task, again with a 28-day deadline.
If this bid fails as well, Rivlin can assign the task to a third person. But if that person is also unable to form a government within 14 days, the president would call for new elections.
No party in Israel has ever been able to secure the necessary 61-seat majority to rule alone.Netanyahu is in a strong position, given almost guaranteed support from smaller rightwing and religious parties, who collectively won 27 seats.
An alliance is likely with the centre-right Kulanu headed by Moshe Kahlon that took 10 mandates and is expected to play the role of kingmaker.
The opposing bloc of centre-left and Arab parties secured 53 seats.
But Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, who won 24, stands almost no chance of building a majority, as potential partners would likely rule out joining a coalition with the Joint Arab List.
Creating a coalition can be painstaking job, as the leading party must accommodate an array of conflicting demands from an array of small parties wielding influence disproportionate to their size.
This has been and remains the main source of instability in most Israeli governments, with just six of the past 19 parliaments managing to complete their full four-year mandate.