The prime minister was aiming to fend off the far-right elements of his party as Likud members headed to the polls for primary elections on Sunday. Netanyahu is guaranteed the top spot on the party’s Knesset slate for the January 22 elections, but the remaining 20-30 realistic spots on the list were up for grabs as party members made their choices.
The Likud party has 123,351 members eligible to vote in the primary. The results are expected to be announced late Sunday night.
There were reports of widespread technical problems in the electronic voting mechanism, causing some potential voters to go home without being able to cast their votes. Some candidates urged party members to come out and exercise their vote despite the reports of technical challenges, while others, including Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who called the elections a “farce,” asked for the primaries to be rescheduled.
Netanyahu is reportedly seeking to steer the right-wing Likud to a more centrist position, but faces a strong challenge from the farther-right elements in the party, headed by MK Moshe Feiglin, a vocal critic of the prime minister.
The prime minister has come under criticism in recent days for what is widely viewed as a premature end to Operation Pillar of Defense.
This criticism could result in a party list skewed against his policies, a result that one Netanyahu aide called a “crazy list,” according to a Ynet News report.
Seven current MKs, including people considered close to Netanyahu, like longtime legislators and senior ministers Dan Meridor and Benny Begin, are predicted to lose their seats in the reshuffling.
The results will be further complicated because the Likud has agreed to run on a joint list with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, meaning that the two lists will be merged in the end.
The latest polls give the Likud-Yisrael Beytenu joint list only 34 mandates, down from 42 between them in the current Knesset. During Operation Pillar of Defense, polls gave them 40 seats. Netanyahu is still expected to head a center-right bloc and retain his post as prime minister.
The national election is scheduled for January 22. The Labor Party is set to hold its primaries on Thursday.