Israel election: Likud leads with 97% of vote counted

 Israel election: Likud leads with 97% of vote counted

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on track this morning to become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, despite his Likud party winning the same number of seats as his rivals.

With 97% of votes counted, both Likud and the Blue and White party, led by former army general Benny Gantz, had won 35 seats in the 120-seat parliament, the Knesset.

However, results showed Netanyahu would be in a much better position to form a majority governing coalition made up of nationalist, far-right and religious allies. Gantz had fewer potential factions to partner with.

These results would give the right and religious bloc 65 seats, and the center, left and Arab parties 55 seats.

The Central Election Committee is now counting the final 3% of votes, belonging to soldiers on bases and diplomats overseas. The counting is expected to be completed by Wednesday afternoon.

Hours before it was clear what the result would be, both Netanyahu and Gantz declared victory to their supporters, buoyed by exit polls showing they had strong figures.

Netanyahu said Tuesday was "a night of tremendous victory"  and that he had already started talking to right-wing parties, who he said had agreed to recommend to the Israeli president that he form the next government, the Guardian reported.

Less than an hour prior, Gantz said: "In elections there are losers; in elections there are winners; and we are the ones who won.'