The moment of truth for Likud ministers, Knesset members and dozens of candidates has arrived: The ruling party's members will select the party's Knesset slate on Sunday ahead of the January general elections. Polling stations across the country opened at 9 pm and are expected to close at 10 pm. Results are expected to be released two hours later.
All 123,351 Likud members are eligible to vote in the primary.
With recent polls giving a joint Likud-Yisrael Beytenu list 34-38 Knesset seats, 97 candidates are competing for 25 realistic spots in the Likud primary.
Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar called for the cancellation of Sunday's vote, citing technical malfunctions at numerous polling stations.
"This is one big farce," Sa'ar said at around noon. "The voting process is ridiculous and must be stopped immediately. We should set a new date and call off today's primaries."
The minister said that according to reports he received, "most of time the computers are down and thousands of people who arrived at the polling stations to vote went home frustrated. This is why there is a low voter turnout – people are not coming because they cannot vote.
"Obviously, the (Knesset) list that is selected when there is such a low voter turnout cannot reflect the opinions of the majority of the party's members," Sa'ar added.
One Likud member left a polling station in Ramat-Gan after waiting for more than an hour and a half. "They kept telling me that the computers will be working soon and asked me to wait. I'm going home because I have nothing to do here. The Likud can go to hell with all its computers," the angry Likudnik told Ynet.
Netanyahu, Sunday morning (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
In a prerecorded phone call to party members, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "I call on you to come vote for the Likud candidates in the next Knesset. In this primary, you will choose the country’s leadership in the coming years. Come influence, decide and vote."
For some of the Likud ministers and lawmakers, Sunday's internal vote marks a crucial political battle. Netanyahu's top spot is secured, but 30 senior faction members will be competing for only 25 realistic spots on the party's national list.
Netanyahu's aides said he fears the primaries will result in a "crazy list" – as one of them put it. The aides are distributing a list of seven to 10 recommended candidates, and Netanyahu has instructed them to "target" a number of candidates in hopes of reducing Moshe Feiglin's influence within the party.
On Saturday Netanyahu called council heads and heads of key Likud branches and asked that they throw their support behind ministers Yuval Steinitz and Benny Begin.
Four former Kadima party members are also vying for a spot on Likud's Knesset list: Avi Dichter, Tzachi Hanegbi, Arie Bibi and Yulia Shamalov Berkovich.
Feiglin, the head of the rightist Jewish Leadership faction within Likud, hopes to finally make it into the Knesset. In the past Netanyahu has tried to ban Feiglin from running for Knesset, claiming that he causes severe damage to the public's image. The PM even declared that "whoever cuts a deal with Feiglin will not be a minister (in my cabinet)."
But in the current primaries Netanyahu decided not to confront Feiglin Sources within Likud said he fears the party will lose rightist voters to Naftali Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi party.
"Feiglin was bad for us in the past, but now he may even be helpful to us," one Likud member said.
Yuval Karni as a Ynet and Yedioth Ahronoth correspondent