Possible Likud challenger Sa’ar pans Netanyahu for ‘unfair’ play

Possible Likud challenger Sa’ar pans Netanyahu for ‘unfair’ play

Former minister Gideon Sa’ar says prime minister’s bid to reschedule party primaries is ‘changing the rules’

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

File: Former interior minister Gideon Sa'ar holds a press conference on September 17, 2014. (Flash90)
File: Former interior minister Gideon Sa'ar holds a press conference on September 17, 2014. (Flash90)

Former minister Gideon Sa’ar responded for the first time Wednesday to a proposal from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to move up the date of the Likud party’s leadership primary, saying the move was unfair.

Sa’ar, a popular former interior minister, is widely thought to be weighing a challenge to Netanyahu for leadership of Likud. Rescheduling the vote could hurt his ability to wage a successful campaign, analysts say.

“Changing the rules of the game during the campaign is not fair,” Sa’ar said. “The date for the primaries for the Likud was already set for January 6 and there is no reason to change it.”

Likud members were voting Wednesday on Netanyahu’s proposal to see the ballot on the party’s leadership changed from January 6 to December 31. The prime minister made the proposal after new elections were called for March 17 last week.

Gideon Sa’ar’s comments came as he cast his vote on the measure  in Tel Aviv. Results are expected Wednesday night.

Sa’ar stepped down from his post as interior minister in October, saying he was leaving politics temporarily to spend more time with his family.

Although Sa’ar has not yet declared his intention to run for the leadership, on Tuesday a Channel 10 poll found that the Likud would win the same number of seats in the Knesset in the coming elections whether it was led by Sa’ar or Netanyahu.

He must submit his candidacy by Sunday and activists are reportedly collecting the necessary 500 signatures on his behalf to get on the ballot.

Likud MK Danny Danon submitted his candidacy for the Likud leadership on Monday, becoming the first to challenge Netanyahu in the party primaries.

“In the past few years, the Likud movement has gone astray,” Danon said. “It’s time to both talk right and do right — in terms of security and politically, as well as socially and economically.”

The Likud central committee chairman — who was fired from his position as deputy defense minister by Netanyahu over the summer after voicing criticism of the war in Gaza — had announced on November 10 he would run. He has been a fierce critic of Netanyahu’s policies.

MK Moshe Feiglin is also expected to join the race for the Likud leadership.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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