Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won a landslide victory on Thursday, December 26 in the country’s primary election for leadership of the ruling Likud party. The primary was an internal election among Likud party members. According to party figures, around 49% of Likud’s 116,000 eligible voters participated. Official results reportedly show Netanyahu captured 41,792 votes, corresponding to 72% of the total vote share.
Shortly after the polls closed, Netanyahu tweeted: “With God and with your help, I will lead the Likud to a big victory in the upcoming elections and continue to lead the State of Israel to unprecedented achievements.” The challenger, Gideon Sa’ar, conceded defeat and put his support behind Netanyahu in the upcoming general election. The Israeli general election is set for March 2020.
In November 2019, Netanyahu was reportedly indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The cases involve allegations of improper gifts and offering favors to media personnel in exchange for favorable news coverage.
After the indictment, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit vowed to hold the country’s leadership accountable. “The public interest requires that we live in a country where no one is above the law,” he said. Netanyahu, however, claims the charges are politically motivated. He urged Israelis to reject the charges and told the public they were “witnessing an attempted coup.”
While it is unclear how these allegations might affect Netanyahu in the general election, the resounding victory in the primary suggests he retains a strong base of support among Likud party members.
Inability to secure a majority
Earlier this year, Israel held two inconclusive general elections. In each round, voters were divided on whether Netanyahu should continue holding power despite the corruption charges. Although he was unable to secure the votes necessary to form a majority government, Netanyahu has remained Israel’s leader. The latest opinion polls show little has changed. For this reason, there is concern that a third election will result in a similar political deadlock.
Netanyahu’s main rival, Benny Gantz, is from the center-left Blue and White party. He has professed a willingness to create a working unity government, but also said he would refuse to work with a prime minister under indictment.
The upcoming general election will test the public’s willingness to back their embattled prime minister amidst the charges. Netanyahu, 70, has led the Likud to four previous victories in national elections.