After the defection of Ariel Sharon, Israel’s Likud party has a new boss. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won a ballot to lead the party into parliamentary elections set for March 28th.
“The country is facing tough challenges and I don’t think it’s going in the right direction,” he told his supporters. “We must bring Likud back to itself and then to the leadership of the country. It begins now – up, up and up,” he said.
Early results showed that Netanyahu scored 47 percent of the vote, ahead of Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom’s 32 precent. Shalom conceded defeat, saying he would sit down with Netanyahu to work out what he called a common programme so the party can remain united.
Likud is trailing in the polls behind the new Kadima party set up by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He quit Likud last month because of a party rebellion over Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza.
Analysts say Netanyahu, who quit Sharon’s government earlier this year in protest against the pull-out, has a tough battle on his hands to turn around Likud’s fortunes.