Israeli PM Netanyahu set for record 5th term

Jerusalem: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was poised to secure a record fifth term in office on Wednesday despite running neck and neck with his rival Benny Gantz in the general election, the media reported.

Ninety seven per cent of the votes had been counted showing Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party tied with ex-military chief Gantz’s centrist Blue and White alliance with 35 seats each.

But Likud and its right-wing allies were in the lead and set to be the largest bloc with 65 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, the Times of Israel reported.

The figures come as the 69-year-old Prime Minister faces corruption allegations. The hearing is expected to take place in July and the decision on the final indictment will come some six months later, according to the Jerusalem Post.

However, the election result means Netanyahu could become Israel’s longest-serving Premier, overtaking Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion. The final results were expected by Friday.

Exit polls had predicted a closely-contested race with no clear winner, prompting both Netanyahu and Gantz to claim victory on Tuesday night.

“It is a night of colossal victory,” Netanyahu said, thanking his supporters, the members of his party and his wife, Sarah, who he kissed before and after the speech and who never left his side.

“It will be a right-wing government, but I will be Prime Minister for all. I’m very touched that the people of Israel gave me their vote of confidence for the fifth time and an even bigger vote of confidence than previous elections.

“I intend to be the Prime Minister of all citizens of Israel. Right, left, Jews, non-Jews. All of Israel’s citizens,” he said.

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

“We won! The Israeli public has had their say! Thank you to the thousands of activists and over a million voters. These elections have a clear winner and a clear loser. Netanyahu promised 40 seats and lost. The President can see the picture and should call on the winner to form the next government. There is no other option!” he said.

“We want to thank Benjamin Netanyahu for his service to the nation,” said the former military chief fighting his first election.

But Wednesday morning results showed that Netanyahu was likely to form a governing coalition with the backing of other right-wing factions.