(VIDEO) Victory speech: The Likud is starting to make its way back to the country’s helm, newly elected Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu told enthusiastic supporters at the party’s headquarters in Tel Aviv early Tuesday.
Netanyahu's victory speech (Video: Yaron Brenner)
“What’s important is to say we’ll be making this way together, in a united movement,” Netanyahu said. “We’re all moving forward, to a direction necessary to secure the country’s future.”
By 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, after 98 percent of the ballots were counted, Netanyahu was leading with 44.4 percent of the vote, followed by Silvan Shalom with 33 percent.
Moshe Feiglin was third with 12.4 percent and Yisrael Katz came in fourth with 8.7 percent of the votes.
The final voter turnout rate stood at 44.6 percent
According to an earlier Israel Radio exit poll, Netanyahu received 47 percent of the Likud primaries vote, with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom coming in second place with 32 percent. Moshe Feiglin received 15 percent of the vote, and Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz won six percent, according to the poll.
Get-well wishes to Sharon
Netanyahu took the podium at Likud’s Tel Aviv headquarters at 1:20 a.m. and received a warm reception. Likud Director General Arik Barami said “Netanyahu put back the smile in Likud’s eyes.”
Bibi chose to open his speech with get-well wishes to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is recovering from the mild stroke he suffered Sunday.
“I’m certain I express the feelings of all of Israel’s residents,” Netanyahu said.
Trying to encourage Likud voters, Bibi noted “Likud governments provided the State of Israel with excellent leadership.”
Israel Radio poll results
“They gave us security, and gave peace, and gave prosperity, and today the country needs it more than ever,” he said. “We’ll walk together, and I mean everyone, the entire excellent team on this stage. I mean everyone, and I also mean Silvan Shalom.”
Earlier, Shalom called Netanyahu and congratulated him on his victory in the Likud primaries.
"I told him I stand at his service, with Netanyahu the head of the movement," said Shalom at his headquarters. "I let him know that I am staying in the Likud, and that I'm ready to bring the movement to victory," he said.
Netanyahu told Shalom: "This was a hard and fair battle." The two agreed to jointly draft the political-economic platform of the Likud ahead of the general elections.
Following the telephone call, Shalom went to his Ramat-Gan headquarters, where he told supporters that he "respected the decision of the voters and all those who voted for Netanyahu. I plan to pull up my sleeves and go from city to city, home to home, to convince everyone to stay at home," he said.
The vote count is expected to go deep into the night, but Netanyahu already invited Likud faction Chairman MK Gideon Saar for a meeting aimed at discussing steps to unite the Likud.
After poll results were published, Netanyahu’s campaign headquarters at Tel Aviv’s Europe House filled with enthusiastic supporters, who told Ynet: “Netanyahu is not only a politician but a talented statesman who will bring the country to new heights.”
‘Likud members like a battered wife’
In a first response, Shalom associates told Ynet they are greatly disappointed by the poll results and said they accept the loss.
“We know we’re talking about a defeat. The low turnout acted in Netanyahu’s favor,” one associate of the foreign minister said.
However, Shalom’s strategic advisor Moshe Debi said the poll showing a victory for Benjamin Netanyahu in the Likud primaries was "only a poll, but there's no doubt that the low turnout made things worse."
He added: "Likud members are behaving like a battered wife, returning to the old and familiar Benjamin Netanyahu.”
Earlier, Shalom’s associates said the most conspicuous reality encountered by the foreign minister during his many tours during the day is that of “activists without fire in their eyes,” leading him to believe the Likud is losing its fighting spirit.
Low turnout causes concern
The day was marked by concerns on both Netanyahu and Shalom’s part over apparently low voter turnout rates, with both candidates urging their supporters to come out and vote.
Meanwhile, Instead of hitting large branches in Raanana, Herzliya, and Tel Aviv, Netanyahu headed to Jerusalem in an effort to encourage his activists in the capital. In a talk with Ynet, Bibi said: “I call on everyone to come out and vote.”
Netanyahu told Ynet he estimates turnout figures would eventually hit about 45 percent.
Bibi's associates said Netanyahu was continuing his tours of various Likud branches, but expressed their concerns over the low turnout, which they said could undermine the Likud movement.
Attila Somfalvi contributed to the story