Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering moving up the date of his Likud's internal vote to choose the party's chairman and candidate for prime minister in the next election, which has tentatively been scheduled for March 17.
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The Likud leadership vote is currently scheduled for January 6.
Figures in Likud, speaking on condition of anonymity, said one motivation for the possible change was to pressure former Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who is considering challenging Netanyahu for the party's top spot.
Some Likud activists predict that Sa’ar is taking serious steps to advance his candidacy to replace incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming Likud primaries. A senior Likud party member said Saturday that Sa’ar is working to consolidate a headquarters and is trying to enlist supporters to support his candidacy.
Sa’ar did not respond to comment from Haaretz, in keeping with his prior silence on the matter.
A senior Likud figure emphasized that a change to the leadership primary would not change the January 14 filing deadline for candidates, but by potentially trimming 10 days from the lead-up to the party primary it could make it difficult for Sa'ar to wage an effective campaign.
"An official date for the vote has not been set, despite a declaration of intent to hold it on January 6," the highly-placed Likud source said, adding that it could be moved to December and that a decision would be made soon.
Sa'ar has not responded publicly to to calls for him to challenge Netanyahu despite his recent resignation and announcement of retirement from politics. Sources in Likud said on Saturday that Sa'ar's intentions are not clear, and that a Netanyahu decision to bring up the vote would allow the former interior minister to accuse Netanyahu of blocking a potential challenger.
Likud officials denied Saturday that blocking a challenge from Sa'ar figured into Netanyahu's considerations on the issue, saying that the prime minister held consultations on the issue last week as soon as the possibility of an early election arose. They said the measure was being considered in order to reduce the duration of the Likud primaries campaign and that it would save resources and further unify the party ahead of the general election.