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      Likud Voters Choose Leader

      The polls are open around the country for the Likud Party's primaries election. Four candidates are running for party leader and prime ministerial candidate, with Netanyahu favored to win.
      By Hillel Fendel
      First Publish: 12/19/2005, 2:00 PM / Last Update: 12/19/2005, 9:47 AM

      Former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is the front-runner, but Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has narrowed the gap, according to most analysts and polls. Shalom is said to have a better-oiled machine for "getting the vote out" than Netanyahu, and Netanyahu has therefore exhorted his supporters and volunteers in the field to work hard to bring every supporter to the polling booth.

      In third place is Moshe Feiglin, head of the party's Jewish Leadership faction, followed by Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz, who is expected to garner less than 3% of the vote.

      As of 1 PM, voter turnout was running close to 10% - considered an impressive turnout for that time of day. At 4:30, the turnout was reported at 15%.

      Netanyahu has accused Shalom of planning to turn the Likud into an extension of Ariel Sharon's Kadima party and of going along with Shalom's policies. Shalom, for his part, has said that Netanyahu and Feiglin would lead the party too far in an "extremist" direction.

      Following Yesha Council head Bentzy Lieberman's weekend endorsement of Netanyahu, Yesha Rabbis Council leader Rabbi Dov Lior released a statement last night calling upon Likud members to vote for Feiglin.

      Lieberman said that "only Netanyahu has realistic chances to head a strong nationalist camp and deal with the grave dangers presented by Sharon and the left."

      Rabbi Lior said that votes should be cast for "a leader who will be loyal to the holy values of the nation, who will strengthen the country's Jewish identity, and who fought all along against the accursed Oslo process and against the destruction of Gush Katif and northern Shomron."

      An official in the Yesha Rabbis Council secretariat said that Rabbi Lior's call came on the heels of Yesha figures' calls to vote for Netanyahu, and that his purpose was to "balance the calls and to express support for Feiglin as well."

      The expellees of Gush Katif and Northern Shomron, who do not have permanent homes, will vote in special polling stations in Ir HaEmunah (Faith City) near Netivot, Yevul and Yated in Halutza south of Gaza, Yad Binyamin, Yad Chana, Nitzan and Karmiyah.

      Close to 130,000 party members are eligible to vote. The elections will be held in 167 polling stations, supervised by some 170 lawyers and 1,391 ushers. If no candidate receives 40% of the vote today, a run-off election will be held next Monday between the top two vote-getters.

      The polls will be closed at 10 PM, at which time the major radio and television stations plan to release their initial projections. This, despite their failure last month following the Labor primaries: Voice of Israel, commissioning Prof. Yitzchak Katz of Maagar Mohot (Brain Base), reported that Peretz had beaten Peres by a 46%-41% margin, while Army Radio, utilizing the services of the Smith Institute, reported a large Peres victory - 52%-38% - over Peretz. In the event, Peretz won by less than 2.4%.