Benjamin Netanyahu may be on the verge of returning to power after exit polls showed the former Israeli prime minister and his allies could win a slim majority in parliament.

His right-wing bloc was poised to win 61-62 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, according to television polls released shortly after the country’s election closed.

The alliance must capture at least 61 to form a new government.

The polls are preliminary and – with such a slim majority expected – the results could change as votes are counted in the coming hours.

And a final result is not expected until later in the week.

Mr NetanyahuIsrael’s longest-serving prime minister, is currently on trial for corruption, which he denies.

He would be able to fight the charges as prime minister, improving his chances of avoiding a conviction or jail time.

Learn more about Benjamin Netanyahu

Mr Netanyahu said the polls showed promise, describing them as a “good start”, but they are not the end result.

His main rival in the elections is the one who ousted him from power last year, the centrist caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

Mr. Lapid, who leads a coalition, warned of the nationalist and religious alliance that would emerge if Mr. Netanyahu forms a government again.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid votes in Tel Aviv

Read more: Election considered a referendum on Netanyahu

The campaign was rocked by far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir – with his ultra-nationalist Religious Zionism poised to become the third largest party in parliament after springing from the political margins.

Mr Netanyahu, 73, counts on the support of Mr Ben-Gvir and his fellow far-right leader Bezalel Smotrich, who have moderated some extreme positions but still say anyone is seen as disloyal to Israel should be expelled from the country.

Mr Ben-Gvir, who was found guilty of incitement for his anti-Arab rhetoric, is expected to seek a cabinet post as head of the ministry that oversees the police.

Itamar Ben-Gvir arrives at his party headquarters in Jerusalem.  Photo: AP
Itamar Ben-Gvir arrives at his party headquarters in Jerusalem. Photo: AP

Last month, he brandished a handgun in a Palestinian neighborhood of Jerusalem and called on police to shoot Palestinian stone-throwers. He also called for the deportation of Arab politicians.

The election was Israel’s fifth in less than four years as the country grapples with a political stalemate.

Opponents of Mr. Netanyahu see him as a serious threat to Israel’s democratic institutions and the rule of law.

He has rejected calls for the resignation of his rivals, who say someone on trial for alleged fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes cannot govern. Mr Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.

Voter turnout was reportedly the highest since 1999.

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