Thursday, January 1, 2015 9:51 pm
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won another term as leader of the ruling rightwing Likud ahead of a snap election, the faction said Thursday, easily defeating his lone hard-right challenger.
The party primary took place ahead of elections in the spring when Netanyahu, who has been in power since 2009, will seek to win a third straight term in office and a fourth in total. He served a first stint as premier between 1996 and 1999.
The results of Wednesday’s ballot clear the way for Netanyahu to lead his Likud party into battle for the March 17 election.
“With nearly 60 percent of the ballots counted, Benjamin Netanyahu took 80 percent of the vote and Danny Danon 20 percent,” Likud spokeswoman Noga Katz told AFP.
Final results are due out later Sunday.
Likud’s 96,651 members also voted to determine frontrunners on the party list, with 70 candidates in the running.
An interim count suggested the lineup was largely a reshuffle of the 18 faces who served in the outgoing government.
In a speech at the party’s headquarters in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu hailed the vote as a success, saying the party had chosen an “excellent list” that would help him win re-election.
“It is a list of a governing party that can continue to lead Israel… that will help us defeat the left under Tzipi (Livni) and Bujie (Isaac Herzog), a winning team that will help me return and continue to lead Israel in security, with responsibility in the spirit of the true Likud,” he said.
Livni’s centrist HaTnuah has joined forces with Herzog and his opposition Labour party to run on a joint list in the March elections.
Official estimates put turnout in the primary at more than 53 percent, lower than the previous party ballot when it stood at 60 percent.
Two separate primaries took place in 2012, with Netanyahu winning a leadership vote in January and again in November, when Likud members voted out three leading moderates as they selected the party list, heralding a shift to the right.