Likud Polls Close After Bumpy Vote for Knesset Candidates

Voting extended until 1 A.M. after complaints of long lines, cumbersome voting process.

The polls in the Likud primary election, in a voting which which will determine the party's Knesset list ahead of the upcoming general elections, have closed.

The voting has been extended until 1 A.M. due to complaints of long lines and a cumbersome voting process.

According to Channel 1, the total voting turnout stood at 49.17 percent.

Polls indicate Likud could sweep to power in the Feb. 10 general elections. A candidate who wins a high place in the primary would be well-positioned for a senior cabinet post in a government headed by Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, a former prime minister.

Even Netanyahu himself had to ask for help when voting at a computerized station, calling over an expert who joined him behind the cardboard barrier hiding the computer.

Netanyahu was initially considering extending the vote, which was to close at 10 P.M., until Tuesday, but the chairman of the Likud central voting committee, judge Harpaz, decided to extend the vote until 1 A.M.

In a statement issued following the committee discussion on the issue, Harpaz said that the decision was made "following numerous complaints received by the voting committee indicating that thousands of voters were not able to cast their ballots due to delays and long lines caused primarily by computer malfunctions."

As of 8 P.M. the voter turnout stood at 33 percent, a low turnout by any standard.

Earlier Monday, Netanyahu urged party members to flock to the polling stations in order to preserve the party's center-right leaning in the face of a far-right threat in primary elections.

Netanyahu, who made the comments after casting his vote in Jerusalem, said a high voter turn out was essential to minimize the influence of Likud strongman Moshe Feiglin's camp.

Analysts have said that a voter turnout approaching 60 percent would favor the slate of "stars," newcomers whom Netanyahu has brought into the Likud and whom the party chairman has strongly endorsed.

A turnout of 50 percent or less is seen as favoring Feiglin, as well as candidates reflecting the Likud's traditional blue-collar and Sephardi voter base.

"We are taking a step toward choosing a new leadership for Israel and for the People of Israel," he added, as some 100,000 Likud members went to the polls Monday.

Netanyahu's primary challenge is from the "Jewish Leadership" faction of Feiglin, who seeks to move the Likud to the far right.

Feiglin also spoke on Monday of the ideological battle in the primary, apparently hinting at the idea that Netanyahu might tamper with votes.

"In light of the awful pressure on Netanyahu, and in light of the destructive manner with which he treats me, I am very concerned about the results of the vote," he said.

Fearing that Feiglin's radical views could drive centrist voters away, Netanyahu's list of recommended candidates is aimed primarily at keeping Feiglin and his supporters off the slate.

Several senior Likud officials urged the Likud members on Sunday to ignore Netanyahu's recommendations when they cast their votes in the vote.

The list has infuriated many senior party members, who warned that Netanyahu risks a backlash: Should the candidates he is opposing nevertheless make it onto the party's Knesset slate, they are liable to retaliate by working against him in the Knesset.

"In a democratic process, it is not good for the movement's leader to be recommending this or that person," commented MK Reuven Rivlin.

But Netanyahu also apparently fears that supporters of his main rival in the party, Silvan Shalom, might dominate the slate, thereby creating an internal opposition to him in Likud's Knesset faction.

This has infuriated Shalom, who accused Netanyahu's circle of portraying him as a "saboteur" in order to damage his chances in the primary.

Netanyahu and Shalom held a long meeting Sunday in an effort to dissipate the tension, and afterward, Netanyahu's office issued a statement insisting that no such tension existed. "For the last two and a half years, the two have cooperated well, and they will continue to work together for a Likud victory," the statement read.

Netanyahu also defended his efforts to influence the primary's outcome, saying that "as the party's leader, it is my duty to work to produce the best list possible and the one most suited to the Likud's character."

Meanwhile, Feiglin's camp published its own list of recommended candidates Sunday. In addition to Feiglin himself, it included Rivlin, Benny Begin, Sagiv Assoulin, former MKs Gila Gamliel, Michael Ratzon and Ehud Yatom, and current MKs Gideon Sa'ar, Gilad Erdan and Moshe Kahlon. Feiglin's staff said the list was chosen based on the candidates' loyalty to the Land of Israel and the Likud's values, and did not reflect deals with any of the candidates.

Other Likud sources said the list appeared to be designed to help Feiglin's electoral chances, as many of the people on it are popular figures who are certain to place high on the party's slate, rather than weaker candidates with whom Feiglin might be in active competition.

Based on internal polls and activists' assessments, the top five slots on the list are likely to be filled by Begin, Shalom, Sa'ar, Rivlin and former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon. Erdan and Kahlon are also expected to place high up. Former Likud MK Dan Meridor, one of the people Netanyahu is promoting, is expected to place near the top of the second group of 10, but activists say they would be surprised if he made it into the first 10.

Ironically, some of the most prominent candidates - like Begin and Ya'alon - have not been Likud members long enough to vote themselves.

Two slots, the 10th and 20th, are reserved for women who have served as MKs in the past. The 24th, 29th and 34th are reserved for women who have never been MKs.