Likud party takes a right turn in primaries, sidelining moderates
'Liberal' party members Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Michael Eitan not likely to be elected to next Knesset; Gideon Sa'ar leads pack; Netanyahu: Israelis won't 'waste their ballots on fragments of small parties.'
After two days of voting, marred by technical problems and various complaints, the Likud primaries ended on Monday night with a clear win for the right-wing branch of the party.
Ministers Benny Begin, Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan were dealt a heavy blow by Likud members in the primary, with all three failing to make the top 10, which probably suggests the end of their long political careers.
Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar was the evening's big winner, together with ministers Gilad Erdan, Silvan Shalom and Yisrael Katz, who were followed by hardliner MK Danny Danon, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and the party's probable candidate for defense minister, ex military chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon. MKs Zeev Elkin and Yariv Levin and Minister Yuli Edelstein close out the top 10 of the party's Knesset election list.
Begin was elected 20th on the slate, Meridor placed 28th and Eitan 30th, and were evidently punished by Likud members for their relatively "liberal" positions on issues such as the Supreme Court and freedom of dissent.
Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat came in 16th, behind Tzipi Hotovely and Miri Regev. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz was ranked 14th, one place behind ultra-nationalist settler Moshe Feiglin.
Tzachi Hanegbi, who returned to Likud from Kadima, placed 15th, while another ex-Kadima member, Avi Dichter, was likely disappointed by his 22nd-place finish.
According to the agreement with Yisrael Beiteinu, with which Likud is running on a joint list, the slate will include a Yisrael Beiteinu candidate after every two Likud contenders.
Problems continued to mar the voting on the second day of the primary, after computer glitches on Sunday led to the extension of voting for a second day. The voting extension was not thought to have increased the voter turnout by a great deal, according to estimates on Monday night. In all, some 80,000 Likud members cast their votes.
Speaking at the Exhibition Grounds in Tel Aviv late Monday night, after the results of the primary elections were announced, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the candidates who were not chosen, and indicated that he wishes to continue working with them: "I truly appreciate your contribution to the country and I will keep seeking your services. To my fellow ministers Dan Meridor and Benny Begin: We grew up together in Jerusalem, we were raised on the values of Jabotinsky. I will maintain these values in the next government and I want you by my side."
Netanyahu thanked the members who voted, saying they "represent all parts of the nation." Describing his party as "the people's party," the prime minister continued: "Together, we will continue leading the State of Israel the coming years."
Further expressing confidence in Likud's standing for the upcoming elections, Netanyahu added, "Faced with the security challenges, from up close and from afar, and in the face of economic challenges targeting the whole world, Israel needs an experienced, responsible leadership. In order for us to keep safeguarding security, the economy and workplaces, we need one big Likud. I believe the citizens of Israel this time will not waste their ballots on fragments of small parties. Together, we will continue to lead the state of Israel.”
A series of computer foul-ups on Sunday prevented orderly voting in numerous locations, and by order of the party's elections committee, 36 polling places across the country were reopened at 11 A.M. on Monday to allow party members who couldn't vote the day before to cast their ballots. The polling stations remained open until 9 P.M. However, the Likud elections committee decided to extend voting until 10 P.M. in the West Bank, and to a later hour in all other polling stations as well.
The precise location of those stations, however, remained vague until very late Sunday night. A senior Likud official claimed party ministers were trying to block the reopening of polls in areas where they knew their support was weak.
According to this official, ministers who knew they had not been included in any deals, particularly those arranged by groups on the ideological right, pressed hard to prevent the reopening of polling places in the settlements. Despite the opposition of some Likud ministers, three polling stations were opened in the West Bank on Monday, following a request by Likud Knesset faction chairman Zeev Elkin. These three stations were in the Samaria Regional Council, the Binyamin Regional Council and the south Hebron Hills.