Israeli incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief opponent, former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, both declared victory in Israel's 2019 election on Tuesday night, as The Guardian reported, but as dawn approached on Wednesday in Israel, Netanyahu appeared to be building an advantage.
According to live results posted by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, with 37 percent of votes counted as of 3:22 a.m. Israel Daylight Time on Wednesday, Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party appears to have captured 40 seats in the country's 120-seat legislature, the Knesset. Gantz and his center-left Kahol Lavan, or Blue and White Party, had won 35 seats.
While neither party will likely come close to winning the 61 seats necessary for a clear-cut victory — as Israeli elections are rarely won by majority vote — Netanyahu said that he had enough support from smaller right-wing parties to form a coalition government that would give him a record fifth term as prime minister, according to CNN.
"The right-wing bloc led by the Likud won a clear victory. I thank the citizens of Israel for the trust. I will start forming a right-wing government with our natural partners as soon as tonight," Netanyahu said, as quoted by CNN.
Netanyahu campaigned in part by touting his close relationship with Donald Trump, and a Trump "Make America Great Again" banner was unfurled in the crowd at Netanyahu's victory celebration, according to a Guardian reporter on the scene.
Trump himself played a key role in helping Netanyahu to his apparent — though still unconfirmed — victory, recently recognizing Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights from Syria, reversing half-a-century of United States policy, according to The Washington Post.
Trump also designated Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a "terrorist organization" for the first time, which also fulfilled one of Netanyahu's wishes — even though Trump himself partnered with a group closely linked to, and financed by, the Iran Revolutionary Guard on a major real estate project in Azerbaijan, as The Inquisitr has reported.Netanyahu's Likud party also faced accusations of voter intimidation, admitting that it hired "observers" to film Arab voters with cameras also purchased by the Likud, even though filming at polling places is illegal in Israel, according to NBC News. Arab voter turnout was reportedly lower than usual in the Tuesday election. Likud claimed that it was using the cameras to monitor possible "fraud" by Arab voters.
Netanyahu's seeming victory also comes in spite of the fact that he is facing possible multiple indictments on corruption charges, as NBC News reported in February.
Haaretz political commentator Chemi Shalev saw "a warning for U.S. Democrats" in Netanyahu's apparent victory.
"If Netanyahu can win in 2019 — Donald Trump can win in 2020," Shalev wrote.
"The combination of nationalism, ethnocentrism, polarization, incitement and tactical genius, it turns out, can easily overcome charges of corruption, contempt for the rule of law and efforts to harm democracy."