Likud party voters are heading to polling stations on 26 December in order to determine who will lead their party in the upcoming general election in early 2020, as its long-time leader Benjamin Netanyahu was challenged by political veteran, former interior and education minister, Gideon Saar.
Saar is considered to be inclined more to the right than the current prime minister and more hawkish on Palestinian issues, as he rejects a two-state solution opting for a deal involving Jordan instead. He was first brought into politics by Netanyahu himself in 1999, got elected to the Knesset in 2003 for the first time and has recently been called by the media, namely the Times of Israel, as a potential contender for the prime minister's leadership position in the party.
Window of Political Opportunity
Despite Saar scoring high among Likud ranks, he challenged Netanyahu only at the end of 2019, which might not be a coincidence since the prime minister suffered several blows to his position this year, giving Saar a chance for victory.
Namely, Netanyahu failed to bring enough seats in the Knesset for his party in two general elections this year to secure a majority within the existing coalition. He also didn't succeed both times in building a broader coalition to form a government, leading to new snap general elections, which will become the third in less than 12 months in Israel.
Furthermore, Israeli Attorney General indicted Netanyahu on three cases, charging him with bribery, breach of trust and fraud. He is suspected of receiving expensive gifts in exchange for favours and trying to buy positive coverage in one of the country's biggest media outlets.
Low Turnout Amid Storms
These blows left Netanyahu potentially vulnerable, but he has expressed confidence and called on his voters to boost turnout, which remained around 30% five hours before the end of the vote according to AFP, quoting Likud sources. The media blamed severe storms lashing the country as one of the causes for low turnout.
"Everything is within reach, but only if you get out to vote […] The low percentage of turnout hurts us", the prime minister pleaded to his supporters.
Saar also has high hopes to win the Likud primaries, calling on his supporters not to lose hope and promising to end the country's political impasse.
"We can win today, to set forth on a new path that will allow us to form a strong and stable government, that will allow us to unite the people of Israel which is probably the most important thing right now", he said.
The primary results are expected to be published early on 27 December.