Partial election results showed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on course to win a fifth term in office on Wednesday, despite a victory claim from his main rival, according to Haaretz newspaper.
With 64 percent of the votes counted, Netanyahu was expected to take 38 of Israel’s 120 Knesset seats, against 35 predicted for centrist Blue and White, headed by Netanyahu’s rival, former general Benny Gantz.
Though neither party captured a ruling majority in the 120-member Knesset, the partial results put Netanyahu in a strong position to form a coalition government with right-wing factions, key to an ultimate victory.
“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.
The partial results strengthened Netanyahu’s position compared with the early exit polls that were published immediately after voting ended on Tuesday night.
If he wins, Netanyahu, 69, will be 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.
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.