Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu began efforts to find a socioeconomically minded replacement in the Knesset and the cabinet for departing Welfare Minister Moshe Kahlon on Monday.

Kahlon was seen as the face of the Likud on socioeconomic issues and the party’s answer to the campaigns of the Likud’s competition. He also was one of the Likud’s only two Sephardi ministers, although the party has several Sephardi MKs.

Netanyahu’s former bureau chief Natan Eshel met on Monday with former OC Southern Command Maj.- Gen. (res.) Yom-Tov Samia, but a source close to Eshel said there was no chance of Samia running. The prime minister met Monday with several Kadima MKs who want to run in Likud, including Ya’acov Edri, Arieh Bibi and Avi Duan, who are all Sephardi.

Netanyahu made an effort to persuade Kahlon to remain in politics in an emotional Likud faction meeting in which MKs took turns praising the retiring minister.

“I can understand the desire to take a break [from politics],” Netanyahu said to Kahlon. “I took one too. But I haven’t given up, and I won’t give up trying to persuade you to stay.

Your place is with us in leading the country.”

Kahlon used his speech at the meeting to vigorously deny rumors that a fight with Netanyahu had led to his departure. He stressed that he remained loyal to the Likud and would campaign for the party in the election.

“This is the most socioeconomic government I have seen,” Kahlon said. “There is more work to do and the ministers and MKs here are the best to do it. I will take part in the campaign and try to help the Likud so it can continue to lead.”

Sources close to Kahlon speculated that he would join the private sector, working for wealthy businessman Kobi Maimon.

“He needs some rest,” said the minister’s brother, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Kobi Kahlon. “He can come back in four or eight years as head of Likud.”

The Likud’s law committee will meet Tuesday night to decide the technical parameters for deciding the party’s Knesset list. The most likely day for the Likud primary is November 25.

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