Netanyahu orders review of Likud primary vote after discrepancies found

Vote count discrepancies raise suspicions and power struggle between MKs could go all the way to Supreme Court as the Likud list remains far from finalized.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after voting in the Likud primaries (photo credit: LIKUD)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after voting in the Likud primaries
(photo credit: LIKUD)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Likud officials to review and re-type the results of last week’s primary, in light of discrepancies raising suspicions about the process, and agreed to forgo his authority to appoint a candidate to the 21st spot on the Likud’s list following a challenge from four MKs.
Netanyahu gave the order Monday evening, a day after the numbers were released and various media reported irregularities, “to ensure that the results are accurate,” his spokesman said.
There are several inconsistencies in the vote count that have raised questions. For example, only 153 people voted at the Mitzpe Yeriho ballot, but Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis received 229 votes there. Culture Minister Miri Regev received 436 votes in Bnei Brak, even though only 334 people voted in the city. Similar inconsistencies appeared in the vote counts in Kiryat Malachi, Netivot, Kisra and Hebron Hills Regional Council, among other polling places. According to Channel 12, most of the missing votes belonged to Netanyahu’s rival, Gideon Sa’ar.
The Central Elections Committee called for a review of the process on Sunday.
The Likud’s comptroller Shai Galili called for a recount, although he does not have the authority to require one. If a recount does not happen, Galili said that he would petition the party’s court.
Meanwhile, candidate Noam Moallem Yosef petitioned the Likud’s court for a recount.
Likud members from Mitzpe Yeriho released a statement that the numbers published by the party were inaccurate, that 182 party members voted in the settlement and that the votes for several candidates were missing from the official Likud chart. They said the mistake will be fixed and that they do not suspect any wrongdoing.
Similarly, Likud Hebron Hills chapter chairman Alon Krakovsky said the discrepancy comes from residents voting away from their local polling place, such that there were 151 votes in the Hebron Hills ballot box but 210 voters from Hebron Hills.
However, the head of the Likud chapter in Arad called for an investigation. Juliette Lascar said she plans to go to the police, because she found “severe irregularities” in the vote count at the Arad polls.
“Considering that there were 260 voters at the Arad polling place, who voted for 12 candidates each, I find it very strange that there are only about 400 votes in total,” she wrote on Facebook, calling for an investigation of those who brought the ballots from Arad to Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv.
“We worked hard at the ballot in Arad, with integrity and responsibility. To my shock, someone sullied the democratic voting process. I will not be silent until we find those responsible and bring them to justice.”
MK Sharren Haskel also posited that the discrepancies were a result of wrongdoing, arguing that some candidates may have found a way to steal ballots.
Haskel and several other Likud MKs have also petitioned the party’s elections committee to revoke Netanyahu’s authority to appoint three candidates to the party’s list for the next Knesset. This and other disagreements may change the Likud list significantly.
In last week’s primary, Likud members voted to allow Netanyahu to appoint candidates to the 21st, 28th and 36th slots on the list.
Netanyahu said he gave up on the 21st place “out of appreciation for David Bitan and Miki Zohar,” two of the MKs who petitioned against the appointments. The change moves Haskel up to 29th, regardless of other possible changes on the list, putting her in a realistic spot for the next Knesset.
MKs Bitan, Zohar, Haskel and Yoav Kisch, as well as elected Tel Aviv representative Michal Shir and Judea and Samaria representative Shevah Stern, argued that Netanyahu did not follow the correct process to get approval for the move, which shifts Kisch to 23rd place, Bitan to 24 and Zohar to 27. Haskel’s placement depends on another petition on the structure of the list; she could end up in 28th or 39th place.
Bitan wrote in the petition that allowing the party leader to appoint people to the list requires a change in the Likud’s constitution, which can only be approved by a two-thirds majority of the Likud central committee.
Netanyahu argued ahead of the vote that giving him this additional power would allow the Likud to be better prepared in the event that parties merge on the Left.
However, if Netanyahu would seek for the Likud to absorb another party into its list, that would also require a two-thirds central committee vote. In addition, Likud officials told Bayit Yehudi’s leadership on Sunday that they would not be merging.
Also, Netanyahu ruled out inviting Israel Resilience to join his next coalition, in a briefing on Monday evening.
“I won’t go for a government with [Benny] Gantz,” Netanyahu said of the Israel Resilience leader and former IDF chief of staff. “I will first of all form this [current] coalition – a national, Likud government. A right-wing government.”
Israel Resilience responded that “the Zionist government we will build will be one of hope and unity, the very one replacing Netanyahu’s.”
Netanyahu spoke at a meeting with public opinion leaders from the religious-Zionist sector in Jerusalem, in which he called for the parties purporting to represent that population to run as a united list.
“Bayit Yehudi, Otzma [Yehudit], Eli Yishai, National Union must unite to save six to seven seats for the Right bloc,” Netanyahu said. “We cannot lose these votes, because in the end, it’s about whether there is a right-wing or left-wing government. A split in the Right will lead us to lose the elections.”
Netanyahu said that he plans to talk to all of those parties’ leaders to convince them to unite.
“None of them pass the electoral threshold [alone]… merging one of them with the Likud doesn’t add seats in our polls, and therefore, it doesn’t reach our goal,” he added.
The prime minister’s remarks come as Bayit Yehudi and National Union agreed to restart negotiations without preconditions, with the goal of finishing talks and uniting as a single list for the April 9 elections.
The two parties ran together in the last two elections, and were expected to do so this time as well. Recent polls have shown that they will be unlikely to pass the electoral threshold of 3.25% if they run separately.
National Union leader Bezalel Smotrich and Bayit Yehudi chairman Rabbi Rafi Peretz reached an impasse in negotiations, after the former sought to improve his party’s standing in light of his experience as an MK and popularity in the religious-Zionist sector. Peretz, a former IDF chief rabbi, is a political neophyte appointed to helm Bayit Yehudi after Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked left the party.
National Union or Bayit Yehudi could also merge with Otzma Yehudit, the right-wing extremist party, which has repeatedly said it is open to running with both parties.
However, Otzma said it is preparing to run alone after Smotrich would not give the party a spot higher than fourth on the list, which the party said does not give its leaders, Itamar Ben-Gvir and former MK Michael Ben-Ari, a realistic chance of getting elected.