Israel planned to announce on Thursday the final results of its gridlocked election after tallying soldiers' votes.
More than 150,000 ballots, cast mainly in military camps, as well as in prisons and Israeli diplomat missions, are still in play after Tuesday's national poll that left the prospect of Israel and the Palestinians making peace as distant as ever.
Political analysts have noted a shift to the right by troops in past voting, a trend they said could help hawkish Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu in his competing claim against Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of centrist Kadima for the premiership.
Votes counted in civilian polling stations gave Kadima 28 seats to Likud's 27, a margin that could change after the remaining military ballots are added to the equation.
Netanyahu said a strong rightist bloc elected to parliament meant he should be prime minister.
Livni cited Kadima's lead in saying the post should be hers.
It is up to President Shimon Peres, after consultations with party leaders, to decide whether to tap Netanyahu, 59, a former prime minister, or Livni, 50 to try to form a government.
If Netanyahu catches up to Livni after the remaining votes are counted, Peres would likely have no choice but to assign him the task, political commentators said.
A spokesman for the Israel Elections Committee said the final count would be announced at a news conference later on today.
The election results become official on Feb. 18 when they are published in the government gazette. Peres would then have a week to make his nomination, and the candidate he chooses, 42 days to attempt to form a government.
As political parties began negotiating possible pacts on Wednesday, Israeli media said it seemed Peres would have no choice but to pick Netanyahu if majority rightists all back him, reported Reuters.
Avigdor Lieberman's 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.
Israeli media reported that assasination of Hamas leader was used as election campaign during preparations of polls.
Hamas is the ruler of the Gaza Strip which rejects to recognise Israel as a state and says it occupied the Palestinian own territory, killing and driving millions since 1948.
Netanyahu had been cruising ahead in opinion polls until Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government launched a military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Livni is the supporter of the Israeli assault. Israel killed more than 1300 Palestinians and wounded at least 5300, destroying schools, mosques, government buildings and also infrastructure system in Gaza.
Palestinians see no differencies between Livni and Netanyahu, saying both threated their nation.
"We're not playing in their field," said Wasil Taha, chairman of the Arab nationalist party Balad in Israel, which won three seats in Tuesday's election, as it did in 2006.
"The two sides are similar and there is not a big difference between them, particularly concerning the Palestinian cause and negotiations for the sake of peace... The two sides negotiate for the sake of negotiations and not for the sake of a just peace and to achieve it," Jerusalem Post quoted as saying Taha.
Netanyahu met Livni and Netanyahu on Wednesday, appearing to favour the latter though he deferred any decision. Another linchpin party, the conservative Shas, held it own talks with Likud.
Lieberman and religious parties in a coalition would be likely to set virtually impossible conditions for a peace deal.
The Palestinian Authority, which governs the occupied West Bank, said whoever ends up in charge Israel is obliged to continue talks and to meet international obligations.