Final Likud primary tally leaves top 5 as is, with no gain for PM’s rival Sa’ar

While recount doesn’t change ranking dramatically, it reveals significant discrepancies in the number of votes received by individual candidates

Newly appointed interior minister Gilad Erdan (R) with outgoing minister Gideon Sa'ar at a handover ceremony at the Interior Ministry in Jerusalem, November 6, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Newly appointed interior minister Gilad Erdan (R) with outgoing minister Gideon Sa'ar at a handover ceremony at the Interior Ministry in Jerusalem, November 6, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After a busy night examining last-minute appeals regarding the resubmitted results of last week’s ruling Likud primaries, the party ruled Thursday morning that Gideon Sa’ar, one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main rivals, would remain in the fifth slot on the party slate for the upcoming elections.

On Wednesday night it initially emerged that, after a recount was completed to include hundreds of votes that had gone missing, Sa’ar had beaten Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan by some 40 ballots in the tense primaries. However, after a series of overnight appeals, including by Erdan, it was determined that Sa’ar had ultimately been edged out by Erdan by a mere seven votes.

The final results also confirmed that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein had finished first in the primaries, and thus will take the number two slot on the Likud Knesset list for the April 9 elections (behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was reelected as party leader in a 2016 vote). Edelstein is followed by Transportation Minister Israel Katz, Erdan, Sa’ar and Culture Minister Miri Regev — the same top five that emerged from last week’s original disputed count.

In the lead-up to the primaries Netanyahu launched a frontal assault on Sa’ar’s candidacy, accusing him in a video of plotting to replace him. Netanyahu also refused to include Edelstein, who has served as Knesset speaker since 2013, in his recommendations to primary voters.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office, February 10, 2019. (Gali Tibbon/Pool via AP)

Netanyahu ordered the result resubmission after hundreds of votes disappeared from the original count. All polling stations reentered their votes in a database following the discovery of voting irregularities.

As examples, Channel 12 news had reported that in the results counted at the Sha’ar Binyamin locality in the West Bank, Sa’ar received 215 votes. However the official Likud party results only listed 160 votes for the former minister — a discrepancy of 55 ballots.

In Efrat, Sa’ar received 145 votes at the ballot box, but was only credited with 70 in the initial Likud results. According to the report, discrepancies could be found in the results from at least 15 polling locations across the country, and the results appeared to be weighted against specific candidates, chief among them Sa’ar.

The recount also saw Tourism Minister Yariv Levin overtake Immigration Minister Yoav Gallant, who recently defected to Likud from the Kulanu party.

The top ten on the Likud Knesset slate is rounded out by former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat in ninth position and Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel in tenth.

Welfare Minister Haim Katz advanced in the recount from the 14th to the 12th spot, bumping Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis from 12th to 14th. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz edged out Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely in the 15th slot.

While the ranking didn’t change dramatically, the difference in the number of votes received by individual candidates was very large. Sa’ar ended up with 35,941 votes, 2,259 more than was determined last week. Edelstein’s final tally was 1,835 votes more than the original count, and even candidates who lost ground, such as Akunis, got 677 more votes than originally thought.

Welfare Minister Haim Katz arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on April 9, 2017. (Zwigenberg/Flash90)

A second recount for votes on reserved slots lower down the slate was set to be held Thursday, so that part of the slate could see further changes.

Other significant irregularities in the original count included multiple cases of certain candidates receiving more votes in some locales than the total number of ballots cast in those places.

Ministers and lawmakers, including Tzachi Hanegbi and Yoav Kisch, had filed appeals against the original results and demanded a recount in some of the polling stations.

However, Likud said that after examining the issue, the problem seemed to be in the typing of the results into the computerized system rather than with the counting itself.

Some 119,000 Likud party members were eligible to vote in a complicated ranking system for national and district candidates in 113 polling stations across the country. Fifty-eight percent of those eligible eventually voted, a jump from the 52% turnout in the last primaries held in 2014.

In total, 142 candidates competed for the top spots on the electoral slate, all hoping to score high enough to ensure entry to the 120-seat Knesset. Among incumbent MKs and influential newcomers, there was intense competition for the highest spots on the ticket, which all but guarantee a position at the cabinet table.

An over-abundance of votes was also a problem in the last Likud primaries held at the end of 2014, leading to two recounts of votes to settle disputes on some placements.

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