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Likud MK says election czar ‘biased,’ but denies Trump-like plan to dispute vote

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, a Netanyahu ally, launches attack on integrity of Central Elections Committee 2 days before vote, but vows to accept result

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Likud MK Yariv Levin during a faction meeting at the Knesset on December 9, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Likud MK Yariv Levin during a faction meeting at the Knesset on December 9, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Two days before national elections, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin of the ruling Likud party attacked the Central Elections Committee Sunday as “biased” and its decisions as “illogical,” but denied that the remarks were part of a Trump-like plan to dispute the results if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu loses.

“There were unacceptable events in the previous elections,” Levin told the Kan public broadcaster. “The most severe one was the incessant attempt by the committee to hide that, such as the fact that it didn’t allow the protocols to be unveiled.

“The decisions by the committee head, Justice [Uzi] Vogelman, are biased, one-sided and completely illogical,” he said, giving as an example the recent decision to bar from broadcast a stand-up comedy sketch by Netanyahu that was deemed election propaganda.

Levin said Likud was investing considerable funds in having monitors at almost all ballot stations for what he said was ensuring the integrity of the results. Critics have charged in the past that the Likud poll watchers are an attempt to depress the anti-Netanyahu vote.

Justice Uzi Vogelman at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on June 4, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The interviewer then drew a parallel between those remarks and the rhetoric of former US president Donald Trump before the November elections, when for months before the vote the incumbent said election fraud would be committed, and afterward argued without evidence that the election was “stolen” from him.

“Not at all,” Levin replied. “Not only do I not think there will be fraud, I think there isn’t any reason fraud will be committed.”

Asked if Likud would accept any election result, Levin said: “We have always accepted the voters’ will, and we will continue to do that.”

Netanyahu on Thursday similarly promised to accept the election results, even if he loses.

“Of course I’ll accept the results. What can I do, cry?” he told Army Radio ahead of the country’s fourth national vote in two years on Tuesday.

His comment came a day after Yisrael Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman claimed without evidence that Netanyahu was planning a riot similar to the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol carried out by Trump supporters who refused to accept his election loss.

Liberman, a bitter opponent of Netanyahu, did not provide any proof for the allegation, which was made in an interview with Channel 12. The accusation came after Likud supporters twice attacked activists from rival parties in recent weeks.

Violent protesters, loyal to US President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol, January 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Netanyahu faces a tough road to a coalition according to recent opinion polls. Though Likud is predicted to gain the most seats, surveys have generally predicted political deadlock after the election, with no party having a clear path to assembling a majority coalition.

Even if the premier’s bloc of potential supporters gets a majority in the Knesset, he will very likely depend on Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party, which has refused to commit to go with the premier but also hasn’t said he’ll go with the anti-Netanyahu bloc.

Bennett has been insisting he’s running for prime minister himself, despite being predicted to win just 10 seats or so in the 120-member Knesset. He is expected to demand a heavy price for his support, such as a power-sharing rotation deal.

Yamina party leader MK Naftali Bennett attends a Channel 12 news conference in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu has repeatedly said he won’t agree to share the premiership, and on Sunday, Likud sources were quoted by media outlets as suggesting Likud would be willing to fold Yamina into the ruling party, handing Bennett and his No. 2, Ayelet Shaked, a future opportunity to run for Likud leader.

While that is an offer Bennett is likely to have gladly taken several years ago, the chances of that happening in the current context, with Yamina in the kingmaker position, are seen as slim.

Opposition chief Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party is expected to be the second-largest party, with around 18 seats, after Likud’s 30-32 seats, according to polls.

Besides Lapid, Netanyahu faces challengers on the right from Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party.

Sa’ar has ruled out joining a Netanyahu-led coalition, while Bennett has not; both have said they will not sit in a government led by Lapid.

The Islamist Ra’am faction, which is polling at around four seats, has also not committed to any prospective coalition.

The election — the fourth in two years — was called after the power-sharing government of Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline. The election, like the previous three votes, is largely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu’s rule, given his ongoing trial on corruption charges, as well as his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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