Indicted Netanyahu claims victory in Israel vote
Jerusalem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed victory on Tuesday in Israel’s general election, with exit polls putting the indicted premier in a strong position to form the next government.
Monday’s election, Israel’s third in less than a year, was called after inconclusive votes in April and September left the Jewish state in a political deadlock.
Ballots were still being counted with official tallies expected later Tuesday.
But exit polls by three networks gave Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party between 36 and 37 seats in Israel’s 120-member parliament.
That would mark the party’s best-ever result under Netanyahu, who first served as premier from 1996-1999 and whose current tenure began in 2009.
The estimates gave Likud and its right-wing allies, including ultra-Orthodox parties, 59 seats — two short of a majority.
Likud’s main challenger, the centrist Blue and White party, was projected to win between 32 and 34 seats.
Counting its centre-left allies as well as the mainly Arab Joint List alliance, the anti-Netanyahu camp was expected to control 54 to 55 seats.
While there remains no guarantee that Netanyahu can form a coalition, he hailed Monday’s election as a “giant” success.
“This is the most important victory of my life,” he told a boisterous crowd of supporters in Tel Aviv.
In a statement, Likud said Netanyahu had spoken to all the heads of right-wing parties and “agreed to form a strong national government for Israel as soon as possible”.
Blue and White’s leader, ex-military chief Benny Gantz, admitted “disappointment” with the result.
But he stressed that regardless of the final tally Netanyahu is still due to go on trial on March 17 after being charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
“In two weeks, he will be in court,” Gantz said.
The president of the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank, Yohanan Plesner, said the projections showed that Netanyahu had “won a significant political mandate from the Israeli people”.
But, he added, the country was heading towards “unprecedented” legal uncertainty as the probable head of government will be forced to “fight to clear his name in court”. – AFP