'PM doesn’t have enough votes'

Likud activists say intense lobbying won't help Netanyahu.

Bibi at Likud rally (photo credit: Associated Press)
Bibi at Likud rally
(photo credit: Associated Press)
With the campaign clock running down in advance of a key Likud Party vote, party activists said Wednesday that despite two days of intense campaigning, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not have the votes necessary to delay internal party elections.
Netanyahu worked throughout the day in an attempt to encourage the 2,525 central committee members to turn up Thursday at the 28 polling places set up nationwide, and emphasized that failure to vote would lead to a victory for a “marginal, extreme group” within the ruling party.
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“We are asking you to do the near-impossible tomorrow,” Netanyahu said in a last-minute-show-of-force press conference in the Knesset. “I am asking you to do this because I know that there is enormous support within the Likud, that there is an understanding that we need to concentrate on the important things – on security, defending Jerusalem, and a responsible peace process that maintains our interests.”
The Thursday vote will determine whether or not the Likud constitution will be changed to allow the party to hold internal elections up to three years following general elections. Any amendment to the constitution requires a two-thirds majority, and with many party activists opposing the change, the amendment seems unlikely to pass.
“Our enemy is apathy,” the prime minister, flanked on both sides by a strategically-selected phalanx of ministers and MKs, continued on Wednesday. “There is a marginal group that will come, 100 percent. I call on everyone: Go and vote. It is the obligation, privilege and responsibility of all of you to support the Likud.”
One after another, ministers who were not in the field rounding up votes took to the microphones to support the prime minister – but in the moments before the televised event began, a game of musical chairs belied the show of unity. Members of the prime minister’s staff worked to block attempts by ministers to avoid the spotlight by sitting as far as possible from the embattled premier.
Outside of the meeting, veteran Likud activists said that the prime minister’s odds of successfully changing the party’s constitution were slim. They complained that Netanyahu had failed to reach out personally to individual supporters, and termed unconvincing the argument that without their involvement, Moshe Feiglin’s Jewish Leadership movement – the group Netanyahu has described repeatedly in the past week as “marginal and extremist” – would take control.
No elections have been held for the Likud Central Committee or for the party’s other governing body since 2002, in spite of a provision in the party’s constitution mandating that such a vote be held among all the party’s 100,000 members once every four years.
In the meantime, 500 of the original 3,000 committee members elected in 2002 have joined Kadima, and the lack of elections has made it nearly impossible for any would-be leaders under the age of 30 to gain policy-shaping positions in the party.
“One of the great advantages of the Likud has always been that it is atthe forefront of democracy, which has meant that the party hasdisplayed a remarkable ability to renew itself with young blood,” saidone longtime activist. “But what is happening now means the same peopleare holding the ropes and the power [as] in 2002. Delaying the vote byan additional 20 months will allow those people to further consolidatethat power.”
In addition to Feiglin, a coalition of mostly right-leaning Likudofficials have voiced their opposition to the amendment, or conveyedtheir opposition through unwillingness to go on record in support oftheir party chairman.
The struggle on Wednesday night was concentrated on the electionobservers. Netanyahu’s opponents complained that pro-Netanyahu Likudofficials refused to place unbiased observers at the voting booths.Rumors circulated that the pro-Netanyahu faction was planning onutilizing a “mobile voting booth” to reach reluctant voters.
Complained Likud MK Danny Danon, “The prime minister is trying to winat any price – and it has reached the point of absurdity that they areintending to send mobile voting booths to people’s homes, somethingthat has never before been done in democratic elections.”