With 99 percent of the votes counted by early March 18, 2015 morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party emerged as the clear winner in Israel’s parliamentary elections bagging 30 seats as compared to rival Zionist Union’s 24.
Next in the 120-member Israeli parliament came the Joint Arab List with 14 seats, Yesh Atid with 11, Kulanu with 10 and the Jewish Home with eight.
They were followed by Shas with seven, United Torah Judaism with six, Yisrael Beytenu with six, and Meretz with four seats, The Times of Israel reported.
The results came as a surprise, after exit polls published on Tuesday night showed a stronger showing for Zionist Union, Meretz and Yachad — which will likely be kept out of the parliament.
As votes were counted through the night, Likud’s victory became clear. The final results will be announced on Thursday morning.
Likud announced that Netanyahu told party leaders over phone that he hoped to form a coalition with the Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett, Kulanu’s Moshe Kahlon, Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman, Shas’s Aryeh Deri, and United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman.
If all those party leaders agree to join up with Likud, Netanyahu would be able to form a coalition of some 68-odd seats in the 120-member house — keeping his seat in power after an election that was seen by many as a referendum on his rule.
The prime minister said he hoped to set up a coalition in the coming two to three weeks.
This will be Netanyahu’s fourth term as prime minister. In the 2013 parliamentary elections, Likud, which has been in power since 2009, won 31 of the 120 seats.
Opposition and Zionist Union co-leader Yitzhak Herzog phoned Netanyahu to congratulate him on his victory.
Speaking to reporters outside his home, Herzog said he respected the nation’s decision, and vowed to keep working to resolve Israel’s economic and political challenges.
“I wished him luck, but let it be clear, the problems are the same problems, nothing has changed,” he said, adding that the Zionist Union would continue to serve as “an alternative to Likud in every area”.
Formed in December 2014, the Zionist Union is headed by Herzog and former justice minister Tzipi Livni.
In a speech to his supporters in Tel Aviv after Tuesday’s polls closed, Netanyahu said he had already spoken to the leaders of other right-of-centre parties about forming a new government “without delay”, BBC reported.
He described the vote as a “great victory” for Likud, which had trailed the Zionist Union in opinion polls in the run-up to the elections.
Netanyahu said the result was achieved “against all odds”.
After the official announcement of the poll results, President Reuven Rivlin will give the task of forming a government to the party leader who he thinks has the strongest chance of assembling a coalition.
Almost 72 percent of those eligible voted in the election. The turnout was four points higher than the previous election in 2013.
In Israel, the prime minister heads the government and is the most powerful figure in Israeli politics. The term is for five years.
Netanyahu is the ninth Israel prime minister and has held the position continuously since March 31, 2009. He was also prime minister during 1996-99 heading the 27th government in Israel.