High Turnout in Likud Primaries

Campaign flyers of Gideon Saar outside the Likud polling station in Yerushalayim, Tuesday. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

As the polling stations in the Likud primaries closed at 10 p.m., Israel time, the turnout had already surpassed previous primaries, seen as a sign of intense interest in the rivalry between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and former Likud minister Gideon Saar for the leadership.

Over 68,000 had already voted as of 9:30, about 57 percent of the 120,000 eligible voters, compared to 55 percent who cast ballots in 2015.

The process of counting the votes by hand was expected to go on well into the early morning hours at the Kfar Maccabiah hotel complex in Ramat Gan.

On Primary Day, PM Netanyahu again accused Saar of plotting to steal his coming victory, and was said to be directing efforts to curb his gains in the primaries, keeping him from a high place on the electoral list.

Saar, returning from a 4-year timeout from politics, has repeatedly denied the accusations and said he has no intention of trying to displace Netanyahu from the chairmanship.

With Likud polling at upwards of 30 Knesset seats and apparently headed for another victory, politicking for the electoral list has been intense. One hundred and forty-two candidates were competing in the primaries.

The leading candidates for the top five spots were thought to be Knesset Speaker MK Yuli Edelstein, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Transportation Minister Israel Katz, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, and Saar who had served as Interior Minister for Likud.

New faces in the mix included former Yerushalayim mayor Nir Barkat and Immigration Minister Yoav Gallant, who recently bolted the Kulanu party and his position as Housing Minister to join Likud.

Updated Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 4:48 pm .