Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has won Tuesday's race for the leadership of the Likud party with an overwhelming 74 percent of support, according to initial results.
Netanyahu’s rival in the race, Moshe Feiglin, garnered 25 percent of votes, according to the initial count.
In a victory speech he made shortly after initial results came in, Netanyahu clarified that the general elections for the Knesset are still a long way off.
In his speech, the Prime Minister thanked the Cabinet ministers for working on behalf of Israel, and also thanked Knesset members, mayors and party activists.
“I thank you all for your confidence and the renewed support you have given me,” Netanyahu said, adding that the Likud is a movement which “is committed to settle in the land of Israel and is committed to the future of Israel.”
Some speculated that Netanyahu’s decision to hold the leadership race earlier than scheduled meant that the general elections would be held earlier as well, but Netanyahu outright rejected these speculations.
“There’s still time until the elections to the Knesset,” he said to the sound of loud cheering. “We proved that the Likud is a strong and united movement. It is a democratic, open, transparent, national, liberal movement, which respects the law and abides by its responsibility to the State of Israel.”
“We will continue to lead the country in unity and with responsibility for all its citizens,” said the Prime Minister. “We are facing challenges which are not easy and I believe we can overcome them together.”
The polling stations closed at 11:00 p.m. (Israel time) Tuesday evening with about only about 50 percent of voters having taken part. Initial counts found that Netanyahu won the most votes in most of the polling stations in the country. Feiglin, however, made a good showing in some areas of Judea and Samaria, such as Elon Moreh, where he received 127 votes out of 130 and in Har Bracha, where he received 285 votes compared to only four received by Netanyahu.
Netanyahu made an "urgent speech" Tuesday afternoon urging Likud voters to cast their ballots due to low turnout. Political analysts said Netanyahu fears an embarrassing outcome against rival Moshe Feiglin. According to the analysts, a final result which will give Netanyahu less than 80 percent of support would be considered a failure for the Prime Minister.
Earlier on Tuesday, Feiglin’s headquarters said that contrary to the Likud Elections Committee’s decision, Netanyahu’s supporters were removing Feiglin supporters from some polling stations.
The head of Feiglin’s headquarters subsequently ordered observers to physically block the counting of ballot boxes wherever they are not present. “It is very unfortunate that the Likud was humiliated by anti-democratic conduct of the lowest kind,” he said.