Likud Central C'tee Okays Voting Rights for Rank and File

The Likud Central Committee voted overwhelmingly last night to approve party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu's proposal that all Likud members, rather than just the central committee, be allowed to vote in the party primaries.

Mazal Mualem
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Mazal Mualem

The Likud Central Committee voted overwhelmingly last night to approve party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu's proposal that all Likud members, rather than just the central committee, be allowed to vote in the party primaries.

Netanyahu said at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, where the vote was held, that it was clear this pre-election period was the right time to pass the "revolutionary" reform, which he said was the only way the Likud could win back voters.

The Likud is suffering from a slump in the polls, which predict it will win about 15 seats, in large part because many of its traditional supporters have jumped ship to Kadima.

"Were it not for this step, the Likud would have been in real danger of becoming an irrelevant party," said Netanyahu. "The beginning was tough. I encountered tremendous opposition, but as the vote approached, I sensed an improvement and understood this was going to happen. At the end of the day, I requested and received a revolutionary decision that returns the Likud to its good days."

Netanyahu told Haaretz that he plans to steer the Likud back to national leadership.

Addressing former party supporters, Netanyahu said: "I call on you to return home. The Likud is being renewed, is opening its doors and returning to be the most democratic, open and clean of all parties in Israel. It is once again the movement that you loved."

The Likud's supreme court ruled before the vote yesterday against all petitions to ban the central committee meeting, and decided in favor of the party's decision to hold an open vote.

Several central committee members had asked the court to block the meeting from taking place last night, arguing that with only 48 hours' notice, many committee members would find it difficult to attend. The petitioners asked that the central committee be given notice of at least two weeks.

Likud Central Committee member Uzi Cohen said before the vote that he thought 70 percent of the members would choose to retain the status quo if a secret ballot were held. "We wanted a secret ballot, and now that it will be an open vote, it will be difficult for people to vote," he said. "This is not democratic and people won't want to take part in this."

Indeed, only about 600 of the central committee's 3,000 members took part in the vote yesterday. Most of the large groups that opposed the move chose not to arrive for the vote, making it easier for Netanyahu's proposal to win a large majority.

The Likud plans to use yesterday's victory in its campaign. In the next few days, Netanyahu is slated to visit all the local Likud branches, many of which have taken little action in the wake of the Likud-Kadima split and internal party struggles.

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