Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clinched a clear victory early Wednesday morning in Israel’s general elections.
With some 97 percent of votes in Tuesday’s contest counted, his Likud party was tied with Blue and White, but his right-wing/ultra-Orthodox bloc held a decisive lead and Netanyahu was thus safely en route to forming a majority governing coalition.
With more than four million votes counted as of 9 a.m., Likud had snagged 26.27% of the vote, or 35 seats in the 120-seat legislature — the party’s best result since the 2003 election (when it won 38 seats under Ariel Sharon), and its best under Netanyahu.
Likud’s main rival in the election, the Blue and White party led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, won 25.94% of the vote, which would also give it 35 seats, but had insufficient support from other parties to prevent Netanyahu staying in power for what will be a fifth term.
In actual numbers, only some 14,000 votes separated the two biggest parties.
No other party appeared to break double digits in number of seats.
With his Likud at 35, and five right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties managing to get some 30 seats together, Netanyahu could confidently work to form a government similar to his current right-wing coalition, with a solid 65 seats.
On the other side of the fence, four left-wing and Arab parties combined for just 20 seats, putting them en route to the opposition along with Blue and White.
Coming in at a surprising third and fourth places behind Likud and Blue and White were the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, with 6.10% (8 seats) and 5.90% (8 seats) respectively.
Fifth was the predominantly Arab Hadash-Ta’al with 4.61% or six seats.
The historically dominant Labor Party crashed to sixth place with 4.46% (six seats), the party’s worst showing in its 71-year history.
With five seats each were Yisrael Beytenu (with 4.15%) and the Union of Right-Wing Parties (3.66%).
Meanwhile Meretz (3.64%), Kulanu (3.56%) and Arab party Ra’am-Balad (3.45%) had four seats each.
In a shock development, the New Right party, led by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, appeared to have failed to cross the electoral threshold of 3.25%, garnering just 3.14% of the vote, thought it held out hopes that soldiers’ votes could lift it above the threshold; those final votes should be tallied by early Thursday morning.
Another surprise was Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut, which had surged in surveys in recent weeks, polling as high as 6-8 seats. In the end, the far-right pro-marijuana legalization party only drew the support of 2.53% of voters, placing it on the outside looking in.
Also failing to make it in was Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher, with 1.75%.
The results were not final, with tens of thousands of ballots yet to be counted.
Election officials said turnout was 67.8%, down from 2015’s turnout of 71.8%.