Netanyahu wins Israeli election, reports TV channel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looking pleased with the partial election results. (Reuters picture)

JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won the Israeli national election, securing a record fifth term in office, TV Channel 12 said on Wednesday.

With 96% of the votes counted, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud won 37 of Knesset seats, against 36 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 results, published eight hours after voting ended on Tuesday, put Netanyahu in a strong position to form a coalition government with right-wing factions.

“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.

Fireworks flared behind him as his wife Sara applauded and kissed him. “He’s a magician,” the crowd chanted.

Netanyahu, in power consecutively since 2009, has been fighting for his political survival. The closely contested race was widely seen in Israel as a referendum on his character and record in the face of corruption allegations.

He faces possible indictment in three graft cases, and has denied wrongdoing in all three. According to the partial results, Likud won 5 more seats than in the previous election in 2015.

Rival Gantz, 59, earlier also claimed victory, citing preliminary exit polls that showed his party had won more seats than Likud.