The Likud party’s internal court on Monday canceled the primaries for the party’s Knesset roster ahead of the March general election, accepting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appeal against the judges’ earlier decision requiring the vote.
Last week, the court determined in a 2-1 ruling that a decision by the Likud Central Committee to cancel the primary vote was unconstitutional, as one is required before any general parliamentary election.
On Sunday, Netanyahu joined the appeal to the court against holding primaries, in a move seen by some analysts as an effort to maintain the support of loyal MKs worried they could lose their seats.
Likud legal adviser attorney Avi Halevy, who filed the petition, pointed out the difficulty in holding a primaries in time to submit the updated roster for the national election on March 2, and said that since the coming elections are a repeat vote, maintaining the current roster “doesn’t impinge on the rights of party members to be elected to the Knesset.”
Other Likud MKs who joined the petition against holding primaries were Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, David Bitan, Ofir Katz, Shlomo Karai, Keti Shitrit, and Keren Barak.
MK Gideon Sa’ar, who is challenging the prime minister in a party leadership contest on Thursday, has said he had no issue with the Likud court decision demanding primaries and had no intention of appealing it.
In addition, the court on Monday rejected a request to allow party members to vote at any Likud headquarters in the country in Thursday’s vote for the party leadership, requiring them to vote only at the branch where they are members.
This was seen as a blow to Sa’ar, who called for the procedural change, as it made it more difficult for his supporters to vote en masse at any polling station. Sa’ar said he requested the change in order to make it easier for people traveling during the Hannukah holiday to cast their ballot.
The court also accepted a request to extend the voting period on Thursday to 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., in light of a forecast of inclement weather.
Tensions in the party have run high in recent days ahead of Thursday’s leadership race, with supporters of Sa’ar saying last Tuesday that thousands of voters had been purged from the party’s rolls ahead of the primary next week.
Sa’ar’s candidacy has been criticized by Netanyahu allies as disloyal and destabilizing to the party at a time when unity is required.
Though considered a long shot to win the leadership race, Sa’ar is the first serious challenger in Likud to emerge in years against Netanyahu, who has failed in consecutive attempts to form a government and faces corruption charges in three criminal cases.
The charges against Netanyahu, who denies wrongdoing, were a major bone of contention in unity talks between Likud and the rival Blue and White party following elections in September, which, like the previous elections in April, left both of the parties short of a majority together with their respective allies.