Poll: Netanyahu triumphs in Likud primary with 47%

MK Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday evening swept to a comfortable victory in the Likud chairmanship race, as his main rival Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom conceded defeat in a phone conversation with Netanyahu. According to the Channel 1 poll, Netanyahu won 47 percent of the votes in the party primaries. Shalom came in second with 32 percent of the vote. Far-right candidate Moshe Feiglin won 15 percent of the vote, while Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz trailed in fourth place with 6 percent of the vote. The polls questioned 599 Likud voters and quoted margins of error of 4.5 percent, the TV station reported. Addressing his supporters, Silvan Shalom said he called Netanyahu to congratulate him on his victory and called on him to “sit down and work out a common program so that we can remain a united Likud.” “I’ve told Netanyahu that I will remain in the Likud and will join the efforts for Likud to succeed in the parliamentary elections,” Shalom said. Shalom, nevertheless, expressed his disappointment with voter turnout. “I wanted higher voting rates. Unfortunately those who didn’t show at the ballot were probably my supporters.” Initial vote counts, including seven of the 149 voting stations, showed Netanyahu leading Shalom, 43.1 percent to 37.4 percent. Voter turnout was particularly low, with less than 40 percent of the the 128,000 party members casting their ballots. Voting began at 10 A.M. and closed at 10 P.M. Ariel Sharon, who was hospitalized on Sunday evening after suffering a mild stroke, was briefed in hospital on the poll results. According to his advisors. Sharon was surprised with Feiglin’s high support rate. “If Bibi [Netanyahu] did, in fact, win, it was the extreme path that won,” Sharon’s confident said. If the poll results are confirmed in the final vote count, Netanyahu will run against Ariel Sharon, who quit the Likud party last month to form the Kadima centrist party, as his party’s candidate for prime minister in the March 28 elections. Netanyahu stated before the vote that if he won the primaries he would require all the Likud cabinet ministers to resign from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government. Several Likud activists have also said that if Netanyahu won the primaries, he would revive the initiative to form an alternative government by mustering a 61-MK bloc who would support his candidacy as prime minister. But Shinui Chairman MK Yosef Lapid said on Monday evening that his party will not adhere to such an initiative. “We will not support such a move which could imperil the peace process.” “The peace process is more important to us than many other process,” Lapid said. Minister Dan Naveh said that the primary vote “was a turning point in the Likud?s recovery in the election campaign,” and efforts to bring Likud voters, who had veered toward Kadima, back home. MK Yuval Steinitz, a staunch Netanyahu ally, said that “the achievement is not only the great victory, but the fact that over 60,000 Likud members came out to vote in this difficult situation.” The poll results which showed far-right candidate Moshe Feiglin coming in third place with 15 percent of the votes, raised a storm of reactions from all across the political spectrum. Feiglin said shortly after the release of the results that “all my actions have been direct and honest… This is an excellent evening for Israel, today an new alternative Jewish government in Israel was born.” According to Feiglin, if the poll results turn out true, he will call Netanyahu to congratulate him on his victory. Netanyahu’s security and economy-oriented policies, Feiglin said, combined with his own “Jewish Agenda,” could constitute a significant and refreshing change. Netanyahu fears dispelled Netanyahu, who had enjoyed a clear lead over the other contenders in recent days’ polls, feared that the low voter turnout would lead to a run-off with his main rival, Silvan Shalom, who has been narrowing the gap in polls. “We mustn’t give up on a single vote. Bring people over by taxis, get them in cars, even in wheelbarrows. Just get them, just bring them with a mighty hand and outstretched arm,” a worried Netanyahu told his activists in Petah Tikva after receiving word of the extremely low turnout. Analysts have said that a very low voter turnout, of some 30 percent, or a very high turnout, approaching 75-80 percent, would tend to favor Shalom in his bid to overtake front-runner Netanyahu. Netanyahu is said to be looking for a moderate turnout of 50-60 percent. The voter turnout was considerably lower than in previous Likud primaries. Members of Netanyahu’s elections headquarters hoped for a high turnout as recent polls indicated Netanyahu had a lead in the race, although Shalom had been narrowing the gap in recent days. Netanyahu on Monday visited several sites across the country in a bid to encourage party members to come out to vote. He also urged his supporters to call on voters to cast their ballots. On Monday morning, Netanyahu visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem and from there went to meet activists in Rosh Ha’ayin, where a scuffle erupted after one activist called Netanyahu a liar. In Jerusalem, Netanyahu said he was “praying for the well-being of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon,” who on Sunday evening suffered a minor stroke and was admitted to hospital. “But what matters is the health of the country, which does not look good,” he told reporters. Onlookers shouted “You ruined our lives” over his belt-tightening economic policies as finance minister, which won market praise for helping end recession. Shalom cast his vote at the Ramat Gan polling station and said that “tomorrow morning the battle on the Likud’s future will begin as a party running against Labor and Kadima.”