Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu preempted headlines suggesting early elections when he told his supporters at his Likud leadership race victory speech at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds early Wednesday that “there is still time” before Israel will head to the polls.

Netanyahu easily defeated Likud activist Moshe Feiglin, winning 48,490 votes (76.79 percent) compared to Feiglin's 14,660 (23.21%). Despite fears of a low turnout, 63,150 of the eligible 125,300 Likud members (50.4%) exercised their right to vote.

Speaking to a crowd full of Likud activists and most of the party’s ministers and MKs after 1 a.m., Netanyahu expressed his satisfaction with the turnout and hinted that the next general election will be closer to the set date of October 22, 2013 than many people think.

“It is not a foregone conclusion that so many people would leave work and school to vote when it is not in the context of a national election for the Knesset,” he said, adding, “by the way, there is still time” before such an election would take place.

Wednesday’s front page newspaper headlines that had already been sent to print when the prime minister spoke reported that “Netanyahu is considering elections in October [2013].”

Quoting senior Likud ministers, the newspapers suggested that Netanyahu would prefer to advance the election in order to take advantage of his current popularity, avoid extortion from coalition partners in passing the next state budget, and preempt pressure from US President Barack Obama, who could be strengthened if he is reelected in November.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu’s associates confirmed only one of those three goals. They said it was indeed important to avoid extortion in passing the budget.

But they added that the knowledge that Netanyahu could catch them off guard at any time by advancing a general election was enough of a deterrent to keep coalition partners in line.

By law, the failure to pass a state budget results in elections being initiated automatically.

Passing a budget in an election year has proven difficult in the past, but Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz expressed confidence that his government could do it.

“We will do everything possible to ensure the government lasts out its days,” Welfare and Social Services minister Moshe Kahlon said. “It is important that we finish the important work we are doing and give Israelis some stability.”

Netanyahu’s Likud rival, Vice Premier Silvan Shalom, was noticeably absent from the prime minister’s victory party.

By advancing the race by a year and a half, Netanyahu prevented Shalom from running and left him with only Feiglin as his competition.

In the last Likud primary in 2007, Netanyahu won 73.2% of the vote and Feiglin 23.4%.

Netanyahu succeeded in raising his total while Feiglin’s support fell slightly.

Nevertheless, Feiglin claimed victory, noting that nearly a quarter of Likud members advanced his agenda of Jewish leadership for Israel. He said he would use his power in the party to ensure that the next Likud Knesset slate would be loyal to the land of Israel.

“We overcame nearly insurmountable challenges in facing off against a sitting prime minister,” Feiglin said. “Others were too afraid to run against him. Our accomplishment is great.”

Feiglin’s associates boasted that despite perceptions that most of his support came from over the Green Line, only 3,000 of his 14,660 votes came from Judea and Samaria. They pointed out numerous communities in pre-1967 Israel in which Feiglin defeated Netanyahu, most notably Beit Shemesh.

There were communities in Judea and Samaria in which Feiglin won nearly all the votes. In many large cities, Netanyahu beat Feiglin by a huge majority.

Speaking at a Jerusalem press conference with UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-Moon, Netanyahu said he was proud that so many people came out to vote on a night when the popular show Big Brother was on. He rejected the notion that the election results showed that his party had swung to the right.

“The party is moving,” he said. “It moved in my direction.”

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