Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared victory Tuesday night after polls closed.
the real Likud won. We proved that our strength is in our unity. We
will continue to lead responsibly for better education, economy, and
security for all the citizens of the State of Israel," he said during an assembly of supporters at the Tel Aviv fairgrounds. "Likud turns Israel into one of the most developed nations in the world, in education, culture, and environmental protection."
With 85 percent of votes counted, Netanyahu was leading with 75 percent of votes. Rival Moshe Feiglin took 24%.
Contrary to some expectations, not only did Netanyahu not announce a general election, he predicted that there is "still time" before general elections take place.
"We are standing before great challenges," the prime minister concluded. "I am convinced that we will trod forward in our way, the way of the Likud."
Netanyahu was expected to win the Likud leadership for
the fifth time and defeat activist Feiglin in Tuesday’s party primary.
Only about half of the Likud’s 125,000 eligible voters came
out to polling stations across the country due to a combination of poor weather,
irregularities with the voting and political deals hatched over control of the
Likud central committee. The turnout exceeded the 40 percent of the last Likud
primary in 2007 despite indications otherwise earlier in the day.
act of desperation, Netanyahu called an emergency press conference at the Tel
Aviv Fairgrounds to plead with people to vote. He then toured polling stations
in the South while calling eligible voters along the way.
“There is big
support for me, but I am worried it won’t be translated into results in the
polls,” Netanyahu said. “People are not telling me they are not voting for me
because they do not support me but because they do support me and they think I
will win anyway.”
Feiglin protested Netanyahu’s use of a hall rented by
the party for the press conference.
He also complained about problems at
polling stations in his stronghold of Judea and Samaria, which opened two hours
late, because the list of eligible voters was missing.
“Even if I don’t
win this election, this contest will be an important step on the way to my path
to the victory that will eventually come,” Feiglin said outside a polling
station at the Jerusalem International Convention Center. “I have a bad feeling
that efforts were made to prevent my supporters from voting.
truth will win, and we will have Jewish leadership despite all the tricks and
A spokesman for Feiglin reported that his loyalists were
illegally prevented from being present when votes were counted. Feiglin’s
campaign chief ordered his representatives at the polling stations to prevent
the votes from being counted if they were not there.
A Likud spokesman
said there were problems in several places, including in cities and Druse
villages where Netanyahu had a clear advantage, and that nothing was done on
purpose to harm one candidate or another.
Other problems were reported in
Haifa, where a fight broke out between Likud activists, and in the South, where
41 evacuees from Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip were prevented from voting because
they have no home. Due to the problems, voting was extended by an hour
nationwide and by two hours in 10 municipalities.
A boycott of the vote
called by Likud activists in Judea and Samaria to protest Netanyahu’s settlement
policies appeared to have succeeded, as polling stations there had an
exceptionally low turnout. The organizers of the boycott expressed outrage when
people loyal to Feiglin sent text messages saying that the boycott had been
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni downplayed the Likud election,
saying that it did not matter whether the Likud leader would be Feiglin or
“The world does not need to hold its breath for a race that
will not change the real situation,” Livni told MKs who support her in a meeting
at her Tel Aviv office Tuesday night.
“The Likud has changed from a
national liberal party to a party that forms extremist coalitions. The
extremists have taken over the Likud and its leadership.”