Israel’s Netanyahu wins leadership victory

Official results announced early on Friday showed Netanyahu capturing 72 per cent of the votes, compared with 28 per cent for challenger Gideon Saar.

The embattled leader appeared to be on his way to a landslide victory early on Friday, giving him an important boost ahead of the country’s third election in less than a year.

The strong showing by Israel’s longest-serving leader gives him another opportunity to form a government following the March election, after falling short in two previous attempts earlier this year.

The victory over Saar also keeps alive Netanyahu’s hopes of winning immunity from prosecution after being indicted last month on a series of corruption charges.

“A giant victory,” Netanyahu tweeted early Friday, just over an hour after polls closed.

“Thanks to the members of Likud for the trust, support and love,” he added.

“God willing, I will lead Likud to a big victory in the coming elections.”

In a tweet, Saar congratulated Netanyahu and said he would support the prime minister in the national election.

The result of the primary will also prolong Israel’s political uncertainty.

Despite Likud’s strong position, the March vote was expected to leave the party and its main rival, the centrist Blue and White, unable to form a government on their own, and Netanyahu’s lingering legal troubles could again scuttle efforts to form a national unity government.

Israeli TV stations, reporting partial results from polling stations across the country, estimated that Netanyahu had received 70 per cent-to-80 per cent of the votes cast.

Turnout was just under 50 per cent of the party’s 116,000 members, with many voters apparently staying home because of cold, rainy weather.

Read the article by Joseph Krauss in The Canberra Times (AAP) and the Magnet.