Israeli elections ballot papers
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen on the floor with Likud party ballots Reuters/Amir Cohen

Israel's tightly fought elections are claiming their first political victim, as the leader of the left-wing Meretz party says she is resigning in the wake of her party's poor showing in the polls.

The party's chair, Zehava Gal-On, announced on Wednesday 18 March that she is resigning from her post in light of the movement's poor showing in Tuesday's election, according to local media.

Gal-On said, who is preparing to hand the reins of the party over to MK Tamar Zandberg, appealed to both Meretz supporters and undecided voters with one main message: a vote for Meretz would help bring an end to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's era.

Five, then four seats

Before television exit polls were announced, Meretz supporters had gathered in Tel Aviv's Tzavta theater, and cheered as night exit polls showed Meretz surpassed the electoral threshold with five seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

"We did it against all odds!" Gal-On told the room, according to Channel 2.

The official count before dawn on Wednesday, however, revealed the left-wing party had won only four seats.

In comparison, after 99.5% of the votes were counted Netanyahu's Likud party topped the chart with 29 seats, while the centre-left Zionist Union led by Isaac Herzog secured 24 seats in the Knesset, a gap wider than the one projected in exit polls - likely to facilitate Netanyahu's way towards building a governing coalition.

The Joint List party has come third with 14 seats while the Yesh Atid won 11 seats.

While Gal-On then congratulated Herzog over the results, she warned him that joining any government with Netanyahu would be a mistake.

"I want to implore Herzog to not join a Bibi [Netanyahu] government. We will recommend Herzog to form a center-left government and it's possible!" she said.