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Lockdown, tight schedule threaten primaries in upcoming elections

With closure set to last weeks and deadline to submit slates fast approaching, many parties may skip internal voting

Likud members cast their votes for the party list in primaries at the Tel Aviv Likud polling station on February 5, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Likud members cast their votes for the party list in primaries at the Tel Aviv Likud polling station on February 5, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The coronavirus lockdown that began Sunday evening may rule out primaries in Likud and other political parties ahead of the newly called March 2021 elections.

Although the closure is set to last two weeks initially, health officials have already warned it is likely to be extended to a month. Daily virus cases in Israel have been climbing upward in recent weeks, surpassing 3,000 on most days over the past week.

The lockdown rules bar Israelis from gathering, creating serious logistical problems for parties seeking primaries in the upcoming election. And as they are required to submit their slates for the elections in a little over a month, many will likely seek to skip the process.

Elections were called last week after the power-sharing government of Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline. They are set to take place on March 23, 2021.

Police set up temporary roadblocks as Israel enters its 3rd nationwide lockdown, on December 27, 2020 (Police Spokesperson)

Still, several Likud lawmakers called for primaries last week. MKs Nir Barkat, Eli Cohen and Shlomo Karhi all expressed support for a vote. In interviews with Army Radio, Karhi said it is needed to “restore the trust of its voters,” while Cohen said a final decision would be made this week.

Likud MK Nir Barkat at a party campaign event in Tel Aviv on February 16, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“We need to hold primaries to choose the list for the Knesset because this is our obligation to the 140,000 Likud members,” Barkat wrote on Twitter.

Haaretz reported that another party, Meretz, is frantically working to adjust its lineup ahead of the February 4, 2021, deadline set by the Central Elections Committee to submit final lists of candidates, and may seek to achieve a consensus on its slate through a mechanism other than party-wide primaries.

Labor faces a similar situation after chairman Amir Peretz last week said he was stepping aside as leader of the dovish party, after driving it to its lowest-ever showing in the past election and later breaking his campaign promise not to join a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu. Current polls show Labor failing to meet the threshold to enter the Knesset at all.

Peretz’s decision to step down as chairman was cheered by Labor MK Merav Michaeli, a fierce critic of the party’s decision to join the unity government between Likud and Blue and White. Michaeli called for new primaries.

However, Peretz, who intends to remain a candidate for Knesset member, opposes this, calling instead for the roster to be determined by Labor’s central committee. The two are expected to battle over the issue before a judge after Michaeli petitioned the Tel Aviv District Court.

Labor party head MK Amir Peretz (right) and party member MK Merav Michaeli at a press conference with party members at Rabin square in Tel Aviv, following the announcement of the Trump peace plan, on January 29, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Other parties, including Yesh Atid, Yamina, Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu, Shas and United Torah Judaism do not hold primaries. Rather, their slates are determined by party leaders. New Hope, a party created this month by Likud rebel Gideon Sa’ar, is expected to take the same route.

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