Israel's Netanyahu wins Likud leadership contest in 'landslide' victory

Israel's Netanyahu wins Likud leadership contest in 'landslide' victory
Netanyahu won 72 percent of the vote from members of the Likud party. He now faces a gruelling national election, which his party have failed to win, twice.
3 min read
27 December, 2019
Netanyahu won his party's leadership election with 72 percent of the vote [Getty]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday night claimed an "enormous victory" after beating Likud rival Gideon Saar for leadership of the party. 

In a landslide victory, Netanyahu won 72 percent of the vote from members of the ruling right-wing party, while Saar took only 28 percent.

Addressing Israeli reporters, Netanyahu described winning the challenge as a reflection of "a huge expression of trust" in his way.

Thursday's vote was widely regarded as a test of the prime minister's grip on power during difficult times.

As he faces a gruelling campaign to win national elections in March, which could secure him desperate relief from the corruption indictment hanging over him, he depends on voter confidence.

"Now is the time to unite and bring a tremendous victory for the Likud and the right in the election", Netanyahu proclaimed, in an ostensible launch of his election campaign. 

Read more: Israeli parliament paves way for third election in 12 months

While he did not mention his rival once, Saar admitted defeat and pledged to back Netanyahu.

"I am content with my decision to have stood. Those who are unwilling to take a risk for what they believe in will never succeed", Saar wrote on Twitter. 

Voter turnout stood at 49 percent of the Likud party's 116,048-strong membership.

Israel's national Elections Committee has not yet published official results, but the preliminary count serves to cement Netanyahu's status as a veteran statesman.

Media commentators had predicted a victory for Netanyahu, yet the sheer scale made headlines in Israel, with state radio describing it as 'landslide'. 

Analysts see Netanyahu's success in the vote as tied to a strong sense of loyalty within the party as well as his legacy as a successful prime minister. 

Displacing a Likud leader is tantamount to "betrayal" according to Yair Wallach, senior lecturer in Israeli studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London,  who was interviewed by Al Jazeera.

Yet keeping Netanyahu at the helm of the Likud in the upcoming election may prove unwise.

"The second election was worse for the Likud than the first, and the third may very well be even worse. It's therefore a risk for the Likud and the right-wing more generally, to hold onto Netanyahu", Wallach added. 

In the previous two elections this year, Likud under Netanyahu was left paralysed in a political deadlock with the centrist Blue and White party, led by former army chief of staff Benny Ganz.

Initials polls suggest that the March 2020 election could yet again result in a stalemate. 

Meanwhile, the Israeli Supreme court is set to meet next week to consider the pivotal issue of whether a member of parliament, indicted on charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust, is eligible to become prime minister.

Netanyahu for his part has vowed to battle all allegations from the prime minister's office, dismissing the procedures as an "attempted coup" waged by hostile media and law enforcment. 

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