The Likud Central Committee supported Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Monday and voted against Knesset Members Benjamin Netanyahu and Uzi Landau's initiative to push the primary elections forward.
The proposal was rejected by a narrow 104-vote margin.
About 90 percent of the 3,050 Central Committee members exercised their right to vote; 52 percent voted against pushing the primaries forward.
Supporters of the prime minister opened champaign bottles and chanted "Arik king of Israel" in celebration of the victory in Tel Aviv's Ganei Hataarucha (Exhibition Grounds), where the vote was held.
Following the vote sources close to Sharon told Ynet they demand Netanyahu honor the Central Committee’s decision and break up the Likud “rebel” camp. They singled-out Likud Faction Chairman Gideon Sa'ar, who had presented the prime minister with an ultimatum and supported early primary elections.
"Bibi has proven tonight, during his appearance following the announcement of the results, that there are new shades of green and they were seen on his face," a source added.
Meanwhile, Vice Premier Shimon Peres (Labor) called Sharon from London to congratulate him on his victory.
'Likud members will make the right decision'
Earlier Sharon cast his vote and took the opportunity to joke with reporters.
“’Can you hear me? Are you sure you hear me?” he quipped, referring to Sunday’s microphone fiasco at the Likud Central Committee meeting that prevented him from delivering his speech.
“I planned to speak yesterday about the Likud…but unfortunately it didn’t work out. I hope Central Committee members will come and vote against the proposal that will badly hurt the Likud,” he said.
Netanyahu voted shortly after Sharon and said he is “convinced Likud members will make the right decision.”
Sources close to Sharon said prior to the announcement of the results that in case the prime minister triumphs, he may “get his revenge” on some of the ministers who turned their backs on him.
As expected, allegations of forged ballots quickly surfaced. Sharon’s associates said one of the prime minister’s supporters was told that someone had already cast a ballot under her name, adding that a discrepancy was found between the number of voting envelopes and the number of people who registered to vote.
However, members of the opposite camp said some Sharon supporters voted twice.
At one point, clashes broke out between activists who support Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and those who back his Likud rivals, Benjamin Netanyahu and Uzi Landau.
Sunday evening, in what was slated to become the big “battle of speeches” between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his rival Benjamin Netanyahu turned into what has become known as the “microphone fiasco.”
The prime minister was forced to leave Sunday’s Likud convention without delivering his speech after the microphone on the podium was mysteriously disconnected. Around midnight, Deputy Likud Director-General Rafi Duek filed a complaint in connection with the embarrassing incident.