Israel PM orders Likud primary vote recount that could boost party rival: report
AP Photo/Dan Balilty
After newly discovered inconsistencies in votes cast during Israel’s ruling Likud party primaries aroused suspicions of fraud, party chairman Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a recount of votes at all polling stations, which could boost the standing of one of his main party rivals Gideon Sa'ar, according to a report from Channel 12 released Monday.
Israeli media reported on Sunday that polling station data revealed that more votes were counted in favor of Likud party candidates than there are registered Likud voters.
With Netanyahu retaining the party’s leadership, candidates were competing for a place in Likud’s 2nd to 18th spots on the list, which would secure their place on the national ballot come April 9th.
Former interior minister and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rival Gideon Sa’ar placed fifth on the list after a four-year hiatus from politics and despite Netanyahu's having reportedly actively worked to thwart his advancement.
The two have repeatedly clashed publicly and bitterly over accusations stemming from an October 2018 report that Sa'ar was working behind the scenes on a scheme that would see President Reuven Rivlin use his prerogative as head of state to name an alternative Likud candidate, the implication being Sa'ar himself, to head a post-election government.
But Sa'ar was missing 640 votes, according to the Channel 12 report, which could move him into third place, bumping down to fourth place public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who is currently ahead by 540 votes.
There were discrepancies in at least fifteen different polling stations, such as Efrat, where Sa'ar apparently received 145 votes but was only credited with 70, manifesting a major shortage in his tally. In the West Bank's Sha’ar Binyamin area, there were apparently 55 votes that went missing from Sa’ar's tally (only 160 were counted out of 215 actual votes).
On the other hand, other candidates received more of the share of votes than actually exist in number of registered voters for given localities.
Culture Minister Miri Regev - who was announced as the winner of Likud’s fifth seat in the party’s future leadership - received a total of 436 votes in Bnei Brak, where are are only 334 eligible voters.
Similarly, Science Minister Ofir Akunis received 229 votes in Mitzpe Jericho, despite there being only 153 Likud voters.
The recount could also see a swap between the seventh place appointee Former Public Security Minister Yariv Levin and the sixth-placed current Minister of Construction Yoav Gallant, a former army commander who joined the party in 2018.
“Likud is proud of its primaries and the fact that it examines itself in an honest and meticulous manner,” the party said in response to the report, adding that it plans to release official results this week.
The recount will commence on Wednesday and is expected to take two days, pushing back the results to the end of the week.
The final slate, however, will take into account reserve positions elected in special regional races.
The party recently approved Netanyahu’s request to reserve the 28th, 36th, and one additional spot for candidates of the premier's choosing, despite resistance from some Likud members. He decided to cede the 21st position in exchange for either the 39th or 40th position "out of respect" for those who opposed his original request.
Polls closed at 10:00 p.m. local time last Tuesday, with just 58.4% of some 119,000 eligible Likud voters casting ballots for 142 national and district candidates, all vying for enough votes to win a spot on the party's electoral slate.
An excess of votes tallied is a problem that also plagued the Likud back in its 2014 primaries, prompting two recounts at the time.
Netanyahu has been prime minister for a total of more than 12 years, from 1996 to 1999 and again since 2009. If re-elected, he could next year surpass the record set by Israel's founding father David Ben-Gurion, who spent more than 13 years in office.
However, Netanyahu is also facing a looming decision by Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mandelbit over whether to pursue recommendations for his indictment in three separate corruption cases.
Mandelblit will reportedly publish his decision on whether or not Netanyahu will be indicted on any of the charges by the end of this month.
Ahead of the decision, Netanyahu on Sunday added lawyer Pini Rubin to his defense team. Rubin has worked on several high-profile cases, including his defense of Arnon Milchan, who is one of the wealthy benefactors Netanyahu is suspected of taking bribes from in exchange for favorable government treatment.
Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any personal wrongdoing, calling the investigation a “witch hunt” led by “the left and the media.”
Though he would not be required to step down in the event of an indictment -- only if he is convicted with all appeals exhausted -- Netanyahu appears to be isolating rivals who would be likely to break rank in the event of an indictment.
Public opinion polls in the run-up to the April 9 vote all show Netanyahu's Likud with a firm grip on power, only seriously challenged by the prospect of a centrist alliance led by dark horse candidate and former IDF chief Benny Gantz and his Israel Resilience party.
According to an i24NEWS-Israel Hayom poll published Sunday, an alliance of that nature would earn 42 seats to Likud’s 35 seats. However, negotiations between Gantz and former finance minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party over merging their factions and running on a joint ticket have yet to come to fruition.
The poll reveals that with no centrist alliance announced, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud maintains a firm lead over all political rivals earning 30 seats, leaving Gantz’s Israel Resilience trailing at 21 seats on a solo run.
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