Israel election: Netanyahu claims victory as his party takes lead

ISRAEL, March 18: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared headed for another term as the latest tally Wednesday showed his party in the lead.

With nearly all votes counted, Netanyahu’s Likud party has at least 29 seats in the 120 seat Knesset, Haaretz reported.

Main rival Zionist Union has 24 seats, the newspaper said.

Israel’s ballots are for political parties rather than individual candidates. No party has ever won a majority, but the victory goes to the party leader most suited to put together a 61-seat majority with coalition parties.

An optimistic Netanyahu claimed victory shortly after millions cast ballots.

“Against all odds, we achieved this huge victory,” Netanyahu told cheering supporters. “Now we should form a strong and stable government that will be able to take care of the security, safety and welfare of each and every citizen of Israel.”

The Zionist Union hit back, accusing the Likud party of misleading. It has not conceded.

“The rightist bloc has shrunk. Everything is possible until the real results are in, when we can know which parties passed the electoral threshold and which government we can form,” it said in a statement. “All the spins and statements are premature.”

Official results are not expected until next week, with the process of building coalitions expected to take much longer.

Israel is ready for change, said Gabriel Sassoon, foreign communications adviser for the Herzog campaign.

“The fat lady has far from sung in this case. We do not know,” he said. ” The parties are neck and neck and it’s a matter of coalition negotiations and let me tell you, it’s entirely possible to form a center-left coalition at this point. Israel is tired of nine long years of Netanyahu.”

Election ballots are for political parties rather than individual candidates. Israel has a proportional representation system, meaning a coalition government is likely to be formed within its 120-seat Knesset.