Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu told reporters on Tuesday that failure to pass his initiative to weaken the powers of the party's central committee "won't hurt me."
The comment came in response to a reporter asking whether the party chairman was concerned over losing the support of the 3,000 central committee members as he seeks to end their power to select the party's Knesset list. Any political damage, he said, was not as important as winning over those voters - worth over five Knesset seats according to some polls - who would vote Likud if the move passed the central committee.
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Netanyahu decided on Monday to take a gamble by asking the central committee to pass a proposal next week to abdicate its power to elect the MKs.
Netanyahu made the decision after he saw a Ma'agar Mohot
poll published in the Makor Rishon
newspaper last Friday that found that if the election system in the Likud was changed, the party would immediately gain an additional six mandates.
The poll found that the Likud would gain two seats from Kadima, three from Labor and one from the National Union-National Religious Party to jump from 17 to 23 seats. Kadima would fall from 38 to 36, Labor from 19 to 16, and NU-NRP from 10 to nine.
Netanyahu spent Monday meeting with key central committee leaders at the Likud's Tel Aviv headquarters. Netanyahu's associates said he succeeded in persuading them to support the move for the greater good of the party.
Sources close to Netanyahu said the move was intended to improve the party's image at a time when polls indicate that the public considers the Likud Israel's most corrupt party, especially after MK Nomi Blumenthal was convicted last week of paying for central committee members to stay overnight in a fancy hotel.
In a speech on Sunday at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, Netanyahu expressed outrage at the press for giving him the image of a corrupt politician even though he had never been convicted of anything.
"Netanyahu is trying to repeat Sharon's success in improving his image in the public by going after the central committee," a source close to Netanyahu said. "If the proposal passes, he looks like a reformer, and if it does not pass, he can use the central committee as an alibi for losing the election."
Sources close to Netanyahu said the urgency of changing the system for the next election of MKs already now is that MKs will not feel beholden to the central committee anymore and will feel more free to govern.
The Likud's law committee will convene ahead of the central committee meeting to decide whether the vote will be held by secret ballot, a decision that would significantly decrease Netanyahu's chances of passing the proposal.
"If the proposal falls, I will try to pass it again and again," Netanyahu said in meetings with activists. "Everyone knows this has to be done. A lot of damage has been done by electing the MKs in the central committee."
Lashing out at Kadima where Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided the list on their own, Netanyahu said that "electing MKs among 3000 people is healthier than among one person and doing it among 130,000 Likud members is even healthier."
Avraham Avidan, who heads the Likud's Yavneh branch, attacked Netanyahu in the meeting with the central committee leaders. "I told Bibi that he is declaring war against the entire central committee," Avidan said. "I will organize everyone against him. I worked hard to get elected to the central committee. If he can't get elected without attacking the central committee, he can be replaced."
Alfei Menashe mayor Eliezer Hisdai said he agreed with Netanyahu and that he thought the proposal would pass. "Most of the central committee members are smart people who understand politics," Eliezer said. "They know if they don't castrate themselves by giving up their power to elect MKs, they will have to cut off their arms and legs as well."
Meanwhile, Kadima will unveil its new socioeconomic platform on Tuesday, which was written by Education Minister Meir Sheetrit and Knesset candidate Dan Ben-David.
"One of the major issues in our platform is making the budget so transparent that every citizen will know how we are spending the money," Ben-David said. "It's an essential part of democracy that before we start dividing the money, we have to know where it is going today. That's part of what doing things in a more professional manner is all about and that's what Kadima is all about. Amateur hour is over."