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Israel's Likud calls off primary vote, declares Netanyahu winner

AFP , Wednesday 13 Jan 2016
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on January 10, 2016 (Photo: AFP)
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party called off plans for a controversial early primary election Wednesday and declared him the winner after no other candidates entered the race for party leader.

The early primary vote was to be held February 23, less than a year after general elections in March 2015 in what analysts said was a bid by Netanyahu to clear out any potential rivals.

The premier had pushed for the early primary vote.

Since he was the only candidate, there were calls to cancel the primary for the rightwing party's 100,000 members, estimated to cost some four million shekels ($1 million, 935,000 euros), and declare Netanyahu the winner.

There were reports that Netanyahu preferred to push ahead with the election so his legitimacy as party leader could not be challenged ahead of the next general elections, due in 2019 at the latest.

"In these conditions, the election is no longer necessary and Likud leadership has declared the winner as Benjamin Netanyahu," a Likud spokesman told AFP, adding he would be the party's candidate for premier in the next general elections.

In arguing for the early primary, Netanyahu has previously said the party must be prepared for all possibilities, with the prime minister heading a coalition with only a one-seat majority in parliament.

But some analysts said it fit into a longer-term strategy of keeping rivals at bay and possibly luring others who have left the party back into the fold to broaden the Likud.

Netanyahu has been in the prime minister's office for a total of nearly a decade -- fast approaching revered founding father David Ben-Gurion's 13 years.

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