Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu easily won a vote to keep the Likud party helm, the party said on Friday, in a boost ahead of what is likely to be a hard-fought general election in March.
Al Jazeera reports that Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, who faces a corruption indictment and a third general election in twelve months, was expected to beat rival Gideon Saar but a close result could have weakened his influence over the party he has dominated for 20 years.
Netanyahu declared victory soon after midnight Thursday-Friday, as the count was underway, while Sa’ar conceded an hour later. As the final results were announced, Sa’ar called Netanyahu to congratulate him.
A Likud tally gave Netanyahu 72.5% of votes in Thursday’s party ballot, against 27.5% for challenger Gideon Saar, who conceded defeat, tweeting that he would now back the incumbent “for the sake of a Likud victory in the (general) election”.
The Times of Israel reports Netanyahu, in a message to supporters said “This is a huge victory! Thank you Likud members for your trust, support and love,” vowing to “lead Likud to a great victory in the upcoming [national] elections and continue to lead the State of Israel to unprecedented achievements.”
The report adds that at 1 a.m., Sa’ar conceded defeat, saying that while “we don’t have the final figures, the result is clear.” Sa’ar pledged support for Netanyahu and Likud ahead of the March 2 general elections.
“The contest was vital to the Likud and its democratic character,” said Sa’ar. “My decision to run was right and necessary. Whoever isn’t prepared to take a chance for the path he believes in, will never win.”
The contest was the first significant challenge to Netanyahu’s leadership of the Likud in more than a decade, but he maintained the support of the vast majority of the party’s Knesset members and its prominent local leaders and activists, and can thus utilize the result as a boost ahead of Israel’s third general elections in under a year.