Israeli elections: has Benjamin Netanyahu won?
Likud leader claims victory but he may have fallen short of majority
Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed victory in Israel's general election, after early results placed him ahead of main rival Benny Gantz.
With almost a quarter of votes counted, the prime minister’s right-wing Likud party had secured 28.73%, with Gantz's centrist Blue and White alliance trailing on 23.26%. The Joint List - a bloc of Arab parties - was in third place, with 12.36%.
Exit polls suggest Likud and its right-wing allies might fall just short of a majority in parliament but the Jerusalem Post says the “outright victory in the third election in under a year” is expected to enable Netanyahu to “quickly form a right-wing coalition”.
Haaretz described the result as “the triumph of ideology over ambiguity” after Netanyahu offered “clear positions” as Gantz has “waffled”.
“What joy we have tonight,” he told supporters in Tel Aviv. “It's a night of huge victory.”
The Likud leader also said that there would be more party Knesset members, as “we have significantly increased the Likud list”.
Meanwhile, Blue & White leader Gantz appeared to accept defeat, telling his own supporters: “I share with you the sense of pain and disappointment because this is not the result that will put Israel back on the right path.”
The election was Israel's third in less than a year, after neither of the two main party leaders were able to claim a majority in the 120-seat parliament in the previous two polls.
Despite fears of growing voter apathy in the face of so much polling, CNN says the turnout was at a 20-year high.
Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving leader, is hoping for a record fifth term, having been in office from 1996 to 1999 and again from 2009.
The weeks ahead could prove a rollercoaster ride for the controversial politician: in a fortnight he is due in court to face corruption charges, which he denies.
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