Netanyahu, Rival Gideon Sa'ar Fear Low Turnout as Likud Leadership Race Kicks Off

Over 100,000 party members are eligible to vote in Likud's first primary election since 2014

Gideon Sa'ar and his wife Geula Even in Tel Aviv, December 26, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

Likud party members will vote Thursday in the first leadership primary to take place since 2014, choosing between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival within the party, Gideon Sa’ar.

As both candidates are worried that the bad weather will keep people at home, last-minute efforts will likely focus on bringing out the vote. Polling stations will be open from 9 A.M. to 11 P.M., allowing more time for the party's 116,048 members to cast their ballot. 

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Netanyahu later took to Twitter to accuse the Israeli left and the media of trying to prevent his supporters from coming out and voting for him. "My brothers and sisters, Likud members, immense forces – not just the weather – are trying to influence you to stay at home. Come vote for me to lead the party," he wrote. 

Meanwhile, rival Sa'ar was photographed casting his vote at a Tel Aviv ballot. He made a statement in which he called on Likud members "to set out on a new path that will enable us to set up a strong and stable government and united the people of Israel. I ask for your voice, I ask for your faith, together we can make a change," he said.

Sa’ar’s headquarters issued a statement earlier Thursday which said thatsome voting stations were opened before time and observers were prevented from entering.  Earlier, his headquarters issued a statement that the Likud's election panel intentionally tried to make it harder for Sa'ar supporters, for example by not putting a polling station in south Tel Aviv, forcing voters to travel to polling stations uptown.

On Wednesday evening, at a campaign rally held in the southern city of Ashkelon, Netanyahu and his wife Sara were rushed off stage to a nearby shelter when a rocket was launched from the Gaza Strip. The rocket was intercepted by an Iron Dome battery. He later returned to complete his speech. The Israeli military said it attacked targets in Gaza later that night in response.