(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
"There will be an uproar among the members, but people will just have to understand that there is no choice," said Likud director-general Arik Brami following the party's decision to close down nearly 100 of its 160 branches around the country.
Brami was to announce the closures Thursday at a meeting of the Likud secretariat in Tel Aviv.
Political parties receive state funding for their election campaigns and general expenditures according to the number of MKs they have. Only six months ago, before Kadima broke away, the Likud numbered 40 MKs, but after its crash landing in the elections, it is down to 12. The drastic reduction caused a deficit of millions in the party's campaign fund and necessitated a major scaling back of operations.
The first step was to fire 41 employees, mainly junior clerical staff, at the Likud's Metzudat Ze'ev headquarters in Tel Aviv, with more firings to come. Originally the plan was to close down about 40 branches, but Brami, with the blessing of Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, has decided to go a step further. The Likud will sell the properties it owns or stop paying the rent for them. The branch committees will remain, though without fixed premises. The party will still have branches in all the main cities.
The Likud's deficit would have been larger if Netanyahu hadn't ordered in advance to plan for a relatively modest election campaign budget, but he didn't anticipate such a resounding defeat. Now he is determined not to reach a situation like that of Labor, which has a deficit of more than NIS 100 million.
The other main issue on the minds of Likud members is MK Silvan Shalom's attempt to force an early leadership primary in the hope of ousting Netanyahu. The demand is not on the agenda of the secretariat meeting, but Shalom is busy collecting the 600 signatures he needs to convene a special meeting of the central committee, which can decide on an early primary date.
Meanwhile, Kadima has decided not to set up any local branches but instead to organize occasional events for party members at various locations.