Netanyahu easily wins Likud primary: 'We will beat the left'
Netanyahu praises Likud, says 'democracy trumped dictatorship'; 70% of votes counted as Knesset Speaker Edelstein fights minister Erdan for 2nd spot, Regev slated for 5th, far-right Fieglin said out; final results in Likud expected in afternoon hours.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu easily retained his control of the Likud Wednesday, decimating MK Danny Dannon, the sole contender for the party leadership willing to take on the powerful incumbent in the primary.
At a press conference held at noon, Netanyahu praised the party, saying "the Likud has chosen an amazing list (for the Knesset) that will help us beat the left, led by Livni and Herzog, and will help me remain prime minister."
Netanyahu then praised the party's primary system, saying the Likud's "democracy" trumped the "dictatorship" of "trendy parties" - a thinly veiled reference to Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid which does not hold a primary.
As of Thursday noon, 70 percent of the votes had been counted and final results were expected later in the afternoon. Counting had ground to a halt overnight after the computers the party had used to hold the ballot failed, forcing a switch to manual vote counting. Later, counting was stopped again amid reports of infighting amoung the counters.
Initial numbers indicated that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein was neck-to-neck with ministers Gilad Erdan for the no. 2 spot of the party list, with Netanyahu taking the no. 1 spot with ease. Edelstein is likely to finish first after Netanyahu, followed by Erdan, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, MK Miri Regev and then minister Silvan Shalom.
Regev is expected to register a major win, taking one of the top five spots, probably the no. 5 seat, despite rumors that Netanyahu worked to thwart her run, as she received behind the scene support from former Likud strongman Gideon Sa'ar.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon is said to be trailing behind the party's top leadership, and according to initial polls will not make it into the top-10 spots, though later polls refuted the claim, putting him in the no. 7 position.
Far-right MK Moshe Feiglin trails at bottom of list, and will likely not serve as Knesset member in the next government should he fail to reach a higher spot. MK Tzipi Hotovely and former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter are also fighting one another to attain realistic spots on the ticket.
The party also voted on Netanyahu's request to reserve the number 11 and 23 spots on their Knesset list for personal appointments of his choosing, preferably external candidates that can bolster the Likud's attractiveness to potential voters.
The Likud primary elections, which will determine how the Likud's Knesset list for the March 2015 elections will look like, came to an end at 10pm Wednesday and the 600 polling stations across the country started reporting their results to the control center in Tel Aviv. Voter turnout was at 55 percent.
An hour after the polls closed, MK Danny Danon announced his expected loss to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the race for the party's leadership.
"So far, the results indicate that Prime Minister Netanyahu has succeeded in the elections," Danon told reporters. "I congratulate the prime minister and wish him luck."
He went on to say the party will "work together towards the Likud's victory in the elections. We'll work together as a united party against the left, against Herzog and Livni."
Throughout the day, party representatives were concerned of the low voter turnout compared to the previous primaries (50 percent voter turnout in the 2012 primaries), but MK Tzachi Hanegbi said that "the voting rates reflect the results we usually get in elections. Tens of thousands came, left everything, and took part in the formulation and leadership of the ruling party. I'm convinced we'll have a diverse list with experienced people, senior ministers, alongside people who will reflect the renewal in every political movement that wants to keep going."
There are 95,000 eligible voters in the Likud party. The delegates were required to mark 11 names of candidates on their voting form for the national list, and add one representative for the district they're from. The first 22 spots on the list have 5 places reserved for district representatives.
Hardly any new and attractive candidates joined the Likud ahead of the primaries - unlike in other parties such as Labor and Bayit Yehudi. According to assessments, other than former MKs Avi Dichter and Michael Ratzon who want to regain their seats in the Knesset, no dramatic changes are expected in the makeup of the list and the political battle now focuses mostly on where each candidate will be placed, and the desire of some MKs to improve their position.
A low voting turnout of only 35 percent was noted until 7pm, but candidates continued traveling between the polling stations, sending messages through the media to about one third of the voters considered floating voters to come out and vote.
MK Miri Regev claimed that in one of the polling stations she encountered a "hit list" with her name on it, which calls on delegates not to vote for her. Seeing that, she told voters: "Only you will decide my spot."
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, meanwhile, slammed the extremist faction of delegates within the party identified with settlements, and said there are those who seek to take their revenge on him and cause him to drop down the list.
Minister Gilad Erdan also received reports from several polling stations that there are attempts to hurt his position on the list.
Throughout the day, behind the scenes fights were ongoing for the second spot on the list and the first female spot.
MK Tzipi Hotovely said at the end of the day that she was concerned about the fact tens of thousands did not come to vote. "My expectations are that Likud will put together the next government. My placement can improve in one or two spots, but what's important is the Likud's victory in the elections."