Likud Beytenu grim; officials vow to form coalition

Netanyahu and Sa’ar’s concerns that high voter turnout would harm the party come to fruition.

Netanyahu visit Western Wall after voting, Jan. 22, 2013 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Netanyahu visit Western Wall after voting, Jan. 22, 2013
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu began his Election Day with a vote and a prayer – but that was not enough to save his list from losing 11 seats.
With wife, Sara, and his sons Yair and Avner in tow, Netanyahu voted at the Paula Ben-Gurion School in Jerusalem on Tuesday morning, with the prime minister paraphrasing former Likud leader Menachem Begin’s call for it to “rain Machal [Likud] voting slips” despite the sunny weather.
The Likud Beytenu campaign did not give specific numbers or locations as to where voter turnout was higher or lower, and sources within the party glared incredulously at The Jerusalem Post when asked if, perhaps, Netanyahu and Sa'ar's declarations were made in an attempt to encourage undecided voters to choose Machal.
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Then, Netanyahu moved on to the Western Wall.
“I come to the Kotel every [election], to touch the rock of our existence, and I say a prayer for the future of Israel and the future of our nation,” he said.
By the time the polls closed at 10 p.m., Netanyahu needed to pray he wouldn’t lose his premiership.
The dozen or so mostly kippawearing activists chanting “Hedad [Hooray for], Bibi!” and singing “The whole world is a narrow bridge” could not cover up the bleak atmosphere at Likud Beytenu’s half-empty election night headquarters in Tel Aviv.
Sa’ar, who led the party’s campaign, sweated as he addressed the press after exit polls gave the joint list 31 seats.
“We have a long night ahead of us, but all of the exit polls show clearly that the largest list is Likud and the Right bloc has a clear majority, so the next prime minister will be Binyamin Netanyahu,” Sa’ar said. “We will invite all Zionist parties to be part of a broad government that can deal with the challenges ahead.”
Sa’ar assured the public that Likud Beytenu would continue to lead the country, and warned against “elements on the Left” who would try to block Netanyahu from once again becoming prime minister.
Meanwhile, the few politicians remaining in the room – Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, MK Danny Danon, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Gila Gamliel and former Kadima MK Tzachi Hanegbi – spoke to the many members of the media, who outnumbered Likud Beytenu activists.
Campaign officials tried to find ways to spin the results, mostly laying blame on various religious Zionists and the far Right.
A senior Likud Beytenu figure called the projected result a failure for Moshe Feiglin, No.
23 on the joint list and head of the Manhigut Yehudit faction within the Likud, pointing out that he often said the Likud was not as strong as it could be because it was not right-wing enough.
“Now, we’re super right wing, and Feiglin will be in the Knesset, but his theory didn’t prove itself,” the source said.
Likud central committee member Gidon Ariel pointed to “confusing” messages from Netanyahu and the party’s campaign that turned off settler and religious-Zionist voters, pushing them into the arms of Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett.
Likud and Yisrael Beytenu’s fall from a combined 42 Knesset seats to what exit polls say will be 31 was nearly predicted by polls, which last week forecast a result of 32 to 34.
As Election Day went on, though, Netanyahu, Sa’ar and others made it clear they were concerned the downturn would continue, as high voter turnout would help the Center- Left bloc.
“The Likud is in danger of losing power. I ask that you drop everything and go out now to vote Machal,” the prime minister pleaded on his Facebook page in the afternoon.
“This is very important to ensure the future of the State of Israel.”
Throughout the day, Netanyahu and other Likud ministers and MKs visited polling places around the country, expressing concerns, as voter turnout rates went up, that their supporters were not voting.
Netanyahu offered incentives to those voting, posting on Facebook that those who write on the profile that they voted Likud Beytenu may get a phone call from him. The prime minister, who occasionally shows off his artistic skills on social media, also posted a hand-written note calling to strengthen his party, together with a doodle of a Machal voting ticket.
Visiting campaign headquarters in Tel Aviv in the afternoon, when turnout had already hit nearly 50 percent, the prime minister said everyone must “go out and vote, and then return to the cafés,” before dashing off to a café in Netanya to convince more voters.
“We are worried by the fact that areas where the Left is strong have a higher turnout rate,” Sa’ar told reporters as campaign headquarters buzzed with activity and volunteers called potential voters.
Sa’ar explained that the campaign was “working to raise the percentage of Likud Beytenu votes, so the result of the election will reflect what the people want, and most people want Netanyahu and the national camp to lead the government.”
Meanwhile, others in the party expressed careful optimism.
“It’s too early to know what the results will be,” Danon, ninth on the parties’ joint list, said in the afternoon. “It was a weird campaign, without a clear rival. That made it hard to wake up the activists.”
Shortly after Netanyahu stated the opposite, the Likud MK said that, in the morning, voter turnout was low in Likud strongholds, but that it went up by the afternoon.
“No matter what, the Right will win this election,” Danon asserted. “I believe in activism in the field, and we have a major presence [at polling places].”
Still, to be on the safe side, the MK sent out an SMS to supporters taking advantage of the day off: “Dear friends, after the picnics and barbecues with your family and friends, go vote. We need a decisive victory.”
Another source at campaign headquarters predicted the joint list would get 37 seats, adding, “Don’t worry.”
His prediction was reinforced by Judy Shalom Nir Mozes, wife of Vice Premier Silvan Shalom, who tweeted: “I just got a calming poll from a friend in the media: Likud 38 seats.”
Both were proven wrong by the end of the night.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin took a statesmanlike stance when he voted near his home in Jerusalem, saying that every vote counts.
“Unfortunately, the Israeli public lost its faith in its ability to have an influence,” he said.
“We must remember that this is the most important day for a parliamentary democracy.
Today, the public determines who will represent it for the next four years and who will influence its fate.
“No citizen has the privilege of avoiding voting,” Rivlin said.
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