Yesh Atid cancels primaries, extends Lapid’s chairmanship

Party belonging to Gantz’s Blue and White faction nixes leadership vote, citing ongoing political deadlock, absence of government

Blue and White party MK Yair Lapid speaks to the media after casting his ballot at a voting station in Tel Aviv on September 17, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Blue and White party MK Yair Lapid speaks to the media after casting his ballot at a voting station in Tel Aviv on September 17, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Yesh Atid party on Thursday extended the tenure of its chairman Yair Lapid for the next three Knesset cycles, citing the ongoing political deadlock in the country.

According to the party’s bylaws, Yesh Atid was scheduled to hold a leadership race at the end of the 22nd Knesset, but the lack of a government will likely see it dissolve within weeks to pave way for another round of elections.

The 21st Knesset — elected during the April elections — similarly dissolved into oblivion when new elections were called in September.

In a statement, Yesh Atid said that in light of the “special circumstances,” party founder Lapid would stay on as chairman for three mores Knesset cycles.

“In light of the unusual situation in regards to the elections, the parliamentary inactivity of the 21 and 22nd Knessets and the joining together with Blue and White, it has been decided to extend the chairmanship of MK Lapid until the end of the 25th Knesset,” the party said in a statement. “This is a technical procedure that was pursued in light of the special circumstances.”

The prospect of an unprecedented third election in less than a year became all but assured on Wednesday when Lapid’s political partner, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, conceded his failure to cobble together a coalition in the wake of inconclusive September elections.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself had failed to reach coalition agreements in the previous month.

Under Israeli law, the Knesset now enters a 21-day period where any lawmaker can try to muster 61 votes that would earn him or her a chance at putting together a government.

That means both Gantz and Netanyahu will continue their efforts to find coalition partners and to explore the possibility of a unity government. Dark-horse candidates may also emerge. If they fail, the country would be forced to hold another general election, probably in March.

Opinion polls have indicated a new election would deliver similar results to September’s inconclusive vote, signaling additional months of uncertainty and political deadlock.

Meanwhile, several members of Netanyahu’s Likud party were calling to hold primaries in what was seen as bid to challenge the prime minister for party leadership.

Netanyahu last month declared his intention to hold primaries, but backed away from the idea when his party rival Gideon Sa’ar indicated he would run against him as leader.

His failure to form a coalition following the April and September elections has dented his reputation as the invincible prince of Israeli politics.

Sa’ar, who enjoys great popularity among Likud’s voter base, could prove a formidable challenger when the party’s 130,000 card-carrying members vote in a primary.

Even if Netanyahu did win, a bruising leadership battle could leave the party’s dirty laundry out for all to see, after years in which it has mostly managed to tamp down internal dissent even as Netanyahu has faced mounting legal woes.

On Thursday, Sa’ar announced that he would challenge Netanyahu for the leadership, and expressed confidence that unlike the prime minister, he would be able to cobble together a Knesset majority.

“We must set a timetable for primaries. We are a democratic party, we aren’t like Yesh Atid that cancels its own internal elections,” Sa’ar said at a Jerusalem Post conference. “Likud hasn’t had primaries for many years.

“If we’re going to a third election, it doesn’t make sense for the prime minister to win especially this time,” he told attendees. “I think I will be able to form a government, and I think I will be able to unify the nation.”

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