The Likud primary election: These are the main battles

With an expected 35 seats in the upcoming election according to recent polls, Likud is by far the largest party holding a primary election.

 LIKUD MKS Gadi Yevarkan, Avi Dichter, Galit Distal Atbaryan, Miki Zohar and Likud member Ayoub Kara attend an event earlier this month in Petah Tikva ahead of next month’s Likud primaries. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
LIKUD MKS Gadi Yevarkan, Avi Dichter, Galit Distal Atbaryan, Miki Zohar and Likud member Ayoub Kara attend an event earlier this month in Petah Tikva ahead of next month’s Likud primaries.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

The Likud is set to launch its primary election on Wednesday, after safety concerns related to Operation Breaking Dawn abated following the announcement on Sunday night of a cease-fire going into effect.

With an expected 35 seats in the upcoming election according to recent polls, Likud is by far the largest party holding a primary election. Approximately 140,000 members are eligible to vote, and there are some 140 candidates. Here is what to look out for:

First, of course, is who will win the top spots. The battle here is between MKs who are close to Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, such as MKs Yariv Levin, former Transportation and Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, Galit Distal Atbaryan, Dudi Amsalem and former Justice and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, and those who are seen as potential future leaders of the Likud, such as former Transportation and Finance Minister MK Yisrael Katz, former Knesset Speaker and Health Minister MK Yuli Edelstein and Nir Barkat. MK Eli Cohen is also a frontrunner, according to a source in the Likud.  

Who will make the cut?

Second, a number of current Likud MKs will with near certainty not make it into the next Knesset. According to the Likud's primary election rules, the list has four different components: The general nationwide primary election; spots reserved for representatives of ten different regions who must not have served as MKs in the past; "special" spots reserved for women, a new immigrant, a haredi, a non-Jew, and a young representative; and spots reserved for the head of the party to choose.

 OPPOSITION LEADER Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media at Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv, last week (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90) OPPOSITION LEADER Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media at Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv, last week (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

The first spot on the list is reserved for party leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Between spots two and 35 there are 25 seats reserved for national candidates, six of which are reserved for women.

There are exactly 19 current male MKs vying for the remaining 19 spots, but they are also facing a number of additional high-profile candidates including former UN Ambassador Danny Danon, journalist and former diplomat Boaz Bismuth, former Communications Minister Ayoob Kara, Gilad Sharon (son of former prime minister Ariel Sharon), journalist Erez Tadmor and former Likud MK Avraham Negosa.

Danon and Bismuth have the highest chances of beating out sitting MKs, but the others could also create surprises, according to a source in the Likud.

Out of the six women, one must be new, and there are eight current women MKs vying for the remaining five spots.

This means that realistically, at least five sitting MKs could find themselves off the list. These are likely to include MKs who filled the "specialty" spots, since they did not need to enlist as large a base of supporters in the previous primary as the other candidates. These may include Fateen Mulla (currently number 29) and Gadi Yevarkan (currently number 17), as well as May Golan (30), Orly Levy-Abecassis (26) and either Eti Atiah (20), Keren Barak (23) or Keti Shitrit (27), the source said.

Criminal records

A third, important aspect of the Likud primary is whether candidates with criminal records will win any of the regional spots. These include David Sharren, a former chief of staff of Netanyahu's who was indicted in the Submarine Affair on suspicion of bribery, breach of trust, money laundering and party campaign violations; Dudu Laniado, whose candidacy was rejected after Channel 12 revealed that in addition to a former conviction for breaking and entering, he also served jail time in 2010 for violating a house arrest and attacking a woman and police officer; and Yoni Jorno, who in 2001 was convicted for kidnapping a Philippine foreign worker.  

Sharren is running in the Shfela region, whose winner will likely make it into the Knesset. Laniado, who is running in the Tel Aviv district, had his candidacy rejected by a Likud court last week but he is appealing the decision.

Netanyahu reportedly does not want the party to be painted as a haven for ex-criminals and has been running a relatively respectful campaign up until this point in order to attempt to regain the trust of voters who left the Likud over Netanyahu and other Likud member's legal cases, including that of MK David Bitan, who was indicted last August for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

A final and fourth issue to look out for is the battle between Netanyahu and the "inner" Likud influencers, such as The Likud Central Committee chair MK Haim Katz, Likud Secretariat leader MK Yisrael Katz, and MK David Bitan.

Netanyahu won the first battle when the Likud court system decided last week to approve his push to enable all Likud members, and not just the Central Committee, choose the regional candidates. Netanyahu called on Monday for all Likud voters to cast their vote in the primary and reportedly is actively encouraging voters to turn out. This is because he has more influence over voters who are not associated with certain organized groups, nicknamed "free" voters, versus Bitan, Haim Katz and others who have different groups committed to vote for them, in what are known as "organized" votes. Katz, for example, is supported by the large Israel Aerospace Industry workers union, and also wants to make sure that his political protégé Eti Atiah makes the list as well.