Netanyahu wins Likud leadership with 73.2% but media boycotts his speech.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN, JPOST.COM STAFF
Despite losing the Likud primary to Binyamin Netanyahu, Moshe Feiglin said Wednesday that he was encouraged by the results.
Feiglin told Army Radio that "some quarter of Likud members say they want a leadership that believes in this people and this land. They understand that this country has no chance (at the moment)."
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According to the final count, Netanyahu won 73.2 percent of the votes, while Feiglin got 23.4% and Danny Danon 3.4%.
Despite Netanyahu's fears of a record low turnout, some 40 percent of the Likud's 95,000 members cast ballots at the approximately 300 polling stations across the country. The turnout was similar to the 42% who voted in the 2005 primary between Netanyahu and MK Silvan Shalom and greater than the 34% who cast their ballots in the 1999 race between future prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert and MK Meir Sheetrit.
Feiglin said that the turnout reflected the will of the movement and the will of the entire population. "It cannot be claimed that 40 percent is not a general representation of Likud members. In my opinion, it also represents the population of Israel. The general public is fed up."
Feiglin remained optimistic about his chances of winning the next party leadership race. "I hope that in the next primary I will succeed in winning the Likud leadership," he said.
Following claims from members of the Feiglin camp that Netanyahu prevented them from getting into the Tel Aviv headquarters after the results were announced - a claim Netanyahu denied - Feiglin said: "I'm waiting for Netanyahu. Yesterday I came to shake his hand. His behavior showed a lack of respect for the party he leads."
In a parting shot, Feiglin said: "Actually I came to shake hands with the real opponent - the left."
After Netanyahu was reelected Likud chairman, defeating Feiglin and Danon, a last-minute drama ensued when he decided to hold his victory speech in a room adjacent to the one originally agreed upon, a decision that prompted media and reporters to refuse to cover the speech.
Reporters said they agreed to boycott the speech to protest Netanyahu's decision, which, they said, was in contradiction with their agreement with him from earlier that evening.
Concurrently, a radio journalist who wished to speak to Feiglin outside the premises was informed by a Likud security guard that he would be allowed out the building, but not back in. The reporter said on air that he could see Feiglin outside, and that security guards were withholding Feiglin from entering the building.
Netanyahu later told an Israel Radio reporter that he did not give any instructions to bar Feiglin from entering the building.
From midnight to 4:00 a.m. Israel Radio was quoting figures based on 80% of the votes, adding that the Likud Central Committee had refrained from releasing updated figures to the media for four hours. Only at 6:00 a.m. were the final results were announced.
"The Likud's journey back to the Prime Minister's Office has begun," Netanyahu said at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, where he later delivered a victory speech after press time.
Netanyahu's associates expressed satisfaction with the turnout and said he would now turn his attention to defeating Olmert and Labor chairman Ehud Barak in the next general election. The Likud chief's associates also said he would continue fighting Feiglin, possibly petitioning the High Court of Justice to expel him and his supporters from the party. Netanyahu will also try to draft moderates into the party's leadership from the business sector, academia and former IDF generals, they said.
"We ended the small battle, and now we are starting the big war," a Netanyahu associate said. "Tomorrow we start working to topple the government and return to power."
In an effort to maximize turnout, the polls were kept open until 11 p.m.
One was even added in Eilat's hotel district, in addition to the party's branch in the city, to allow vacationing Likudniks to vote. More than 200 vacationers voted at the station in 40-degree heat.
"People came straight out of the pool in their bathing suits, voted and went back into the pool," the head of the polling station, Baruch Kabalo, told The Jerusalem Post. "The turnout was more than I thought it would be. We had the most relaxed polling station in the country. In this heat, no one has any energy to fight."
However, skirmishes broke out in polling stations across the country, mostly between Netanyahu supporters and Feiglin activists. Physical fights were reported in Kiryat Ata, Sderot, Yavne and Shoham.
Feiglin's closest aide, Michael Fuah, was attacked by Israel Aerospace Industries employees at a polling station in Shoham after he filmed some 200 of them arriving en masse on buses paid for by the head of the IAA's union, Likud MK Haim Katz. Police were called to the scene, and Fuah filed a complaint against the workers.
In Upper Nazareth, all the votes cast were declared invalid, because the ballot box was removed from the building without supervision.
Danon complained about several polling stations in the North, where there were no ballots with his name available for voters.
Feiglin supporters complained about large Netanyahu posters at a polling station in Migdal Ha'emek. There was a massive Netanyahu advertisement on the roof of Netanya's polling station, but the Feiglin representative there, Ofer Asher, said he would not complain, because "we love Netanyahu, too."
Netanyahu visited the Netanya polling station after a day campaigning in Ma'aleh Adumim, Jerusalem, Rishon Lezion, Ashdod, Bat Yam and Tel Aviv. He voted at the Jerusalem International Convention Center with his wife, Sara, who made rare public comments urging people to vote.
Feiglin started his day by praying with a small group of supporters on the Temple Mount. At one point a policeman scolded the group for praying too noticeably, but the prayers passed without incident.
When Feiglin arrived to vote at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, he was greeted by a throng of supporters including a man dressed as clown drawing caricatures of people in return for promises to vote for Feiglin.
"This will be remembered as an emotional day in which Israel will return to the people and will no longer be controlled by a leftist minority and politicians on the Right who do their bidding," Feiglin told reporters after he voted. "We are on a journey toward victory. I don't know if the journey will end today but it is a big step along the way."
The three candidates set up tents outside the convention center.
Netanyahu's tent played the Likud anthem, while Feiglin's blasted his jingle, which is a parody of the Likud anthem that was recorded by singer Ariel Zilber especially for the race.
Danon voted at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds and visited polling stations in Herzliya, Ramat Hasharon, Petah Tikva, Lod and Jerusalem. A Likud activist named Nir who represented Danon at the Netanya polling station said many Likud members approached him there and told him they were glad the World Likud chairman had decided to run, so there would be a "sane ideological candidate to vote for."
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