Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won the Israeli national election, securing a record fifth term in office despite running neck-and-neck with his challenger Benny Gantz, the country’s three main television channels said on Wednesday.
With 97 percent of the votes counted, neither of the candidates’ parties had captured a ruling majority, but Netanyahu was clearly in a strong position to form a coalition government with other right-wing factions that have backed him.
The closely contested race was widely seen in Israel as a referendum on Netanyahu’s character and record in the face of corruption allegations. He faces possible indictment in three graft cases, and has denied wrongdoing in all of them.
The veteran right-wing leader’s Likud party and Gantz’s new centrist Blue and White party both won 35 seats, according to the Knesset website and the Israeli TV channels. That would mean a five-seat gain for Likud.
“It is a night of colossal victory,” the 69-year-old Netanyahu told cheering supporters in a late-night speech at Likud headquarters, while cautioning that a “long night and possibly day” lay ahead awaiting official results.
Final results were expected by Friday, though the provisional results showed 65 of the Knesset’s 120 seats would go to the right-wing bloc of parties led by Netanyahu, against a total of 55 seats for center-left factions.
Netanyahu, 69, is on track to be the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s 71-year history. Netanyahu said he had already begun talks with prospective coalition allies.