Benjamin Netanyahu claims win in Israeli election

Clearer path to coalition for PM as two main parties lead the way

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared victory after a tight election appeared to give him the upper hand in forming the country’s next government.

In a statement on Twitter, Netanyahu said that, “against all odds”, his Likud Party had secured a “great victory”.

Initial exit polls showed Likud deadlocked with the centre-left Zionist Union, led by Isaac Herzog. However, the results indicated Netanyahu will have an easier time forming a coalition with hardline and religious allies.

Netanyahu said he had already begun to call potential partners.

Exit polls by the country’s three major TV stations gave mixed results.

Two polls showed the parties deadlocked with 27 seats each, and a third gave Likud a slight lead of 28-27.

All showed the centrist newcomer Moshe Kahlon with enough seats to determine who will be the next prime minister.

Final results are not expected until this morning.

In the final days of the campaign, opinion polls had given Zionist Union a lead of three to four seats over Likud.

The election had turned into a referendum on whether Israelis had grown tired of the leader they call ‘Bibi’ after nine years in power, spread over three terms.

Netanyahu took extraordinary steps to drum up support from right-wing voters, reversing policy on the eve of the election with an announcement he would never allow a Palestinian state.

On election day, he accused left-wing groups of trying to remove him from power by bussing Arab Israeli voters to polling stations, a statement that drew a sharp rebuke from Washington.

If the exit polls prove accurate, Netanyahu could have smoother path towards a coalition, with right-wing and religious parties.

However, Herzog also could prevail, should Kulanu and a bloc of Arab Israelis — which the polls predicted would be Israel’s third largest party — throw their support behind him.

A national unity government grouping both major parties is also possible. Before the vote, Netanyahu rejected such a coalition.

A fourth Netanyahu term would probably also prolong his prickly relationship with Israel’s main ally, the US, at least while Barack Obama is in the White House.

Netanyahu has focused on the threat from Iran’s nuclear programme and militant Islam, but many Israelis say they are tiring of the message, and the centre-left’s campaign on social and economic issues, especially the high cost of housing and everyday living, appears to have won support.

No party has ever won an outright majority in Israel’s 67-year history. It is up to Israel’s president, after consulting with parties that won seats in parliament, to choose a leader to try to form a coalition.


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