Netanyahu declares victory in Likud primaries

Prime minister says there is "still time" until general elections; Netanyahu leads over Feiglin by large margin.

Netanyahu at the polls_390 (photo credit: Reuters)
Netanyahu at the polls_390
(photo credit: Reuters)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared victory Tuesday night after polls closed.
"Today 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.
In an 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.
But the truth will win, and we will have Jewish leadership despite all the tricks and shticks.”
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 canceled.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni downplayed the Likud election, saying that it did not matter whether the Likud leader would be Feiglin or Netanyahu.
“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.”