Jerusalem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on path for victory in Israel’s election on Wednesday after nearly complete results put him in position to form a right-wing coalition and further extend his long tenure in office.
The results from Tuesday’s vote came despite corruption allegations against the 69-year-old premier and put him on track to become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister later this year.
His Likud party looked set to finish with a similar number of seats in parliament to his main rival, ex-military chief Benny Gantz's centrist Blue and White alliance, Israeli media reported.
But with 97 percent of the votes counted, results showed the Likud and other right-wing parties allied to him with some 65 seats in the 120-seat parliament.
The results would seem to leave President Reuven Rivlin, whose task it is to ask one of the candidates to form a government, with little choice but to pick Netanyahu.
Intensive coalition negotiations will follow and could drag on for days or even weeks. Final results were expected by Thursday afternoon, with ballots for soldiers and other special categories of voters yet to be counted.
The close race between the two main parties had led to uncertainty after polls closed on Tuesday night and exit surveys were released.
Both Netanyahu and Gantz claimed victory after the initial exit surveys that gave Blue and White the most seats.
But even then Netanyahu appeared best placed to form a coalition, with both parties in any case falling far short of an outright majority.
Netanyahu spoke in the early hours of Wednesday in Tel Aviv and called it a ‘magnificent victory.’
What happens now?
- Netanyahu is almost certain to be asked by President Reuven Rivlin to form a government.
- He will have up to 42 days in which to do it.
- Netanyahu could invite his main challenger – ex-military chief Benny Gantz's centrist Blue and White – to add its 35 seats to his coalition, an unlikely move.
- Gantz is now set to become leader of the opposition in parliament.
- If the preliminary results are largely confirmed, there are unlikely to be any major policy shifts.
- n Netanyahu's outgoing government is already seen as the most right-wing in Israeli history, and the make-up of the next one may be similar.
- Strengthening of the two ultra-Orthodox parties – to a combined 16 seats from 13 – will increase their clout in government.
- There is no sign he would back off from that approach after he forms a government.