(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Likud's 115,000 members will go to the polls in an August 7 party leadership race after Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu announced on Monday that he was moving up the primary.
The move is expected to be easily approved next week when Netanyahu convenes the Likud central committee for the first time since just before the March 2006 general election. Primaries in the Likud are normally held a few months before a general election, but Netanyahu decided the party already had to start preparing for a general election.
"The next general election might be a lot earlier than people expect it to be," Netanyahu said. "We saw that the Labor central committee has already decided to leave the government [by] October. We need to finish the internal race so we'll be free to devote all our attention to winning the general election." Sources close to Netanyahu said the rationale for holding the race so soon was that the Likud should not be the last party to prepare for general elections. The sources denied reports that Netanyahu advanced the race and limited it to only a month in an effort to catch his rival, MK Silvan Shalom, unprepared.
"It has nothing to do with Silvan," a source close to Netanyahu said.
"Silvan has been pushing to move up the primaries and preparing for a year, so he should be happy. We view these primaries as a vote of confidence in Netanyahu's national leadership, so the win will have to be decisive."
Netanyahu's campaign strategy will be to present himself as a national leader and Shalom as a "small-time politician." He decided to hold the race in August, when many members would be on vacation, even though it could give an advantage to Shalom, whose political strength comes from party activists, who are more likely to vote.
Denying reports that he was upset at Netanyahu's move, a source close to Shalom said he was "happy that Netanyahu accepted his request to hold primaries." The source said the central committee meeting next week would ensure that the race would be held in a fair manner.
"We think it is positive and correct to maintain fair, clear and agreed-upon rules to guarantee that the party be united and not divided as it has been over the last few years," the source said.
Shalom held a rally in his Ramat Gan home last week in which he told some 200 Likud activists that the election had to be moved up. Shalom has hired a team of strategists to help him in the race. He recently attacked Netanyahu in interviews.
The head of the Likud's governing secretariat, MK Yisrael Katz, intends to ask the committee to hold the race in September, when people come back from summer vacations, and not in August. He also expressed concern about holding the race so soon, due to the party's financial problems.
Likud activist Moshe Feiglin, who intends to run against Netanyahu and Shalom, expressed confidence that he would eventually win the party leadership. Feiglin, who finished third in a four-man race in December 2005, said he was sure that this time he could at least finish second.
"Holding the races as soon as possible is good for the Jews, because they deserve a real opposition," Feiglin said. "There are many bad decisions of the government that Netanyahu could have protested but didn't. It has never been easier to present an alternative to the government but, unfortunately, Netanyahu hasn't done it."
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