Former Likud minister and political wunderkind Moshe Kahlon unveiled Thursday his newly former Kulanu party's Knesset list for the upcoming elections, and made clear the center-right party was hoping to take a bite out of the Likud's voter base.
"I joined the Likud in the 80s because it was a social party," Kahlon said to a packed hall of suppurters, "at the time it was a social party with empathy for the weak and strong support for the free market. I left the Likud for the same reason – the social issue has been cast aside."
Kahlon, who served as Netanyahu's communication minister and is credited with revolutionizing Israel's telecommunications market and causing prices to drop for consumers at a time when cost of living is still one of the major issues of the elections, said Kulanu is the only social party in Israel.
His list, comprised of mostly Sephardic candidates and devoid of any heavyweight politicians, as much as recent comments he made regarding the peace process with the Palestinians, indicate his party is taking aim at Netanyahu's electorate of conservative rightist voters.
After the Likud, Kahlon's main rival in the elections is Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid, usually branded a center-left party, which has been left in the center to fight with Kahlon for centrist votes after another centrist party – Hatnua – merged with the Labor party to form the center-left Zionist Camp bloc, currently polling first.
With the new list, Kahlon has placed himself firmly in the right, tying together free market capitalism with social responsibility.
"These next elections are not between left and right, they are between the leaders that care about the people, and those who don’t, its between power groups and the people trying to dismantle them," he said to a cheering crowd.
Earlier Thursday, Kahlon announced the identity of the first ten spots of his Kulanu party: Kahlon himself holds the first spot, followed by former IDF chief of staff hopeful Yoav Galant; in third is Ethiopian-born journalist Tzage Maleku; in fourth former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren; and rounding up the first five is deputy Jerusalem mayor Rachel Azaria.
In the sixth spot is former head of the government's anti-poverty committee Eli Alalouf, a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Israel Prize for his contribution to social equality and justice; in seventh Dr. Yifat Shasha-Biton, formerly deputy mayor of Kiryat Shmona; in eighth Eli Cohen; followed by Roy Folkman, an accountant and Major in the reserves; Merav Ben Ari, an attorney and members of Tel Aviv’s city council; and Shai Abadi, who served as CEO of the Second Authority for Television and Radio.
Kahlon, the communications minister in Netanyahu's previous government, has presented his faction as the pragmatic alternative to Likud. He recently hinted that he would support a renewal of the peace process and criticized the prime minister for damaging Israel's international reputation, but he seems more focused on sending out a social-economic message.
Kahlon told Ynet on Wednesday that we was concerned about the possibility that the political situation would not change after elections and that "housing prices will remain high, the cost of living will be high, the gaps are growing wider and are intolerable; it's a state of stalemate."
During Kahlon’s tenure in Netanyahu’s previous government, he took on the large mobile service providers, opening the market to new players and leading to a drastic drop in prices.
He surprised fellow Likud members by not participating in the last general elections and criticizing his former party. He announced the formation of a new party in October 2014, which he vowed would focus on reducing the cost of living.
Moran Azulay and Roie Mendel contributed to this report