Defense Minister Amir Peretz expressed confidence that he earned himself a victory in the May 28 Labor leadership race and four more years in the Defense Ministry on Tuesday when he won the quest to bring the most new members to the party.
Peretz's associates claimed that they brought more than 27,000 new members' forms to Labor's Tel Aviv headquarters ahead of Tuesday's deadline for new members to be able to vote in the primary.
Peretz's confidants said they registered more than 5,000 new members in the Arab sector alone, due in part to his appointment of MK Ghaleb Majadle as the first Arab minister.
Following the drive, some 110,000 people are now Labor members, passing the 100,000 of Likud, 70,000 of the National Religious Party and 22,000 of Kadima.
"This proves that the party is alive and breathing," Peretz told reporters. "I hope all the new members will vote according to their conscience and beliefs and that there will be fair and democratic elections. I am sure the race will be very exciting."
Peretz's associates lashed out at his challengers who accused him of making a deal with Majadle to register members for him in return for his appointment as a minister. They said Peretz registered people legitimately without the help of the well-oiled machine of the Histadrut Labor Federation that helped him get elected two years ago.
The importance of the membership drive was underscored by the 2005 race when Peretz registered as many as 50,000 people and ended up defeating Vice Premier Shimon Peres by only a few hundred votes.
The latest Dahaf Institute poll of Labor members, published in Yediot Aharonot on Friday, found that former prime minister Ehud Barak and Labor MK Ami Ayalon were running neck-and-neck and that Ayalon would narrowly beat Barak in a two-man race. Peretz rose to third in the poll, passing Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines.
A representative of "dai," a coalition of Labor activists committed to removing Peretz from the Defense Ministry, claimed to have registered 5,200 people under its auspices. The coalition's leader, Labor activist Shlomo Gilboa, was reprimanded for trying to bypass Labor's new regulations that prohibit submitting more than 100 membership forms at a time.
Several new regulations were enacted to prevent a repeat of the 2005 vote that ended with an investigation. The limit of 100 forms, which was imposed for only the final week of the drive, persuaded candidates to deliver forms gradually and not just on the last day.
Another result of the limit was that Labor activists had to wait in line several times to submit all their forms. One Labor activist said they waited in line some 20 times to bypass the new regulations.
Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel expressed satisfaction that the drive would raise enough money from membership fees to allow the party to pay for the primary.
He said the candidates' estimates of how many members they signed up should not be taken too seriously.
"All the candidates can say whatever numbers they want and claim to be bigger than they are until the May 28 race," Cabel said.