Likud members to decide on party's Knesset list

Battle for the top slot after Netanyahu expected between Bennie Begin, Moshe Ya'alon, and Silvan Shalom.

man voting 298 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
man voting 298 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Likud's 99,000 members were set to go to the polls to elect the party's Knesset slate on Monday in a fateful race that could decide whether Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu will win the February 10 general election. Polls opened at 10 a.m. and will close at 11 p.m., with preliminary results expected an hour later. Final results will stream overnight into the Likud's election headquarters at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, where a victory party will be held for the winners. Due to the party's computerized system, Likud members will be able to choose from among the 261 candidates in any of the 400 polling stations in some 90 municipalities nationwide. Party officials expressed confidence that the computer systems would work flawlessly, despite the problems that led Labor to postpone its primary last week. The battle for the top slot after Netanyahu is expected to be fought between former science minister Bennie Begin, former IDF chief of General Staff Moshe Ya'alon and former foreign minister Silvan Shalom, who has been No. 2 on the list for the last three elections. The candidates near the top of the list are also expected to include MKs Gideon Sa'ar, Reuven Rivlin, Yuval Steinitz, Gilad Erdan, Moshe Kahlon, Limor Livnat and Yisrael Katz. Sources close to Netanyahu said that if he became prime minister, the results of the primary would not impact his choice of ministers. "Netanyahu will choose ministers based on their qualifications and what's best for the country," a senior party official close to the Likud leader said. "How they finish in the primary is a show of support, and that's important, but what drives us is what's best for the country and bringing about real change." Kadima and Labor officials expressed confidence that no matter who won the primary, the list would be so right-wing that it would damage Netanyahu's efforts to reach out to undecided centrist voters. They said they were ready to unleash a fierce attack against Netanyahu, using his Knesset slate to bring him down. Netanyahu continued his efforts on Sunday to persuade Likud members to support the candidates that he endorsed in an effort to build a more centrist list. His list includes doves like former IDF deputy chief of General Staff Uzi Dayan and former police superintendent Assaf Hefetz, as well as candidates who could help him win support from particular population sectors, like MK Yuli Edelstein and Netanyahu's former bureau chief Yechiel Leiter. Likud MKs privately criticized Netanyahu for what they called unprecedented and unnecessary interference in the race. They warned that the move could backfire for Netanyahu and persuade party activists to purposely oppose his endorsed candidates and perhaps even vote for Netanyahu's nemesis, party activist Moshe Feiglin. Sources close to Netanyahu took pains to deny any internal rivalry with Shalom, even thought the two are endorsing rival candidates in almost every sector. The two men met Sunday to resolve their differences. But they played up the rivalry with Feiglin, who they said would cost the Likud mandates from voters who would return to Kadima if he were elected to a realistic slot on the list. Feiglin supporters complained to a Likud court on Monday about ads Netanyahu had published attacking him. On Sunday night, Feiglin published a list of his endorsements, which include every Likud MK who opposed the Gaza Strip disengagement. Feiglin said Netanyahu's attacks would only help him get elected. He said he would start off his day on Monday by praying at the Temple Mount before he goes to the Jerusalem International Convention Center to vote. He will be there at the same time as Netanyahu, which could create a photo opportunity that would be awkward for the Likud leader. The Likud's members will each vote for 12 candidates, who are running for national slots two through 20 on the list, and an immigrant candidate for slots reserved at 21 and 30. They will also vote for a candidate in the district in which they live, for slots between 22 and 37. Likud MKs and former MKs are only allowed to run on the national list, except for former MK Pnina Rosenblum, whom a Likud court excepted from the rule on Sunday because she served in the Knesset for only a week. The Likud's 3,000 central committee members will also be asked to vote Monday on a proposal that would allow the Likud to merge at a later date with another party without requiring an absolute majority in the committee. The parties officially being considered are Tzomet, MK Effi Eitam's Ahi and an Ethiopian party led by Falash Mura activist Avraham Nagosa. But the proposal could be used in the future to allow the party to merge with MKs who could break off from Kadima.