Gideon Saar launches bid to unseat Netanyahu as leader of Likud Party

One of Benjamin Netanyahu’s former ministers has launched a leadership campaign to topple him as head of the Likud Party, saying there was "no chance" the weakened prime minister could win another election. 

In the most significant challenge to Mr Netanyahu’s authority in more than a decade, Gideon Saar is mounting a long shot bid to unseat him and end his 20 years as leader of Israel’s main Right-wing party. 

Mr Saar’s leadership challenge comes weeks after Mr Netanyahu was charged with bribery in a long-running corruption scandal and as Israel heads towards an unprecedented third election in one year.

While Mr Netanyahu is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, he has been unable to form a government after both of the elections held this year and polls show him with no clear path to a majority in the next election in March. 

Speaking at his campaign launch outside Tel Aviv, Mr Saar said he respected Mr Netanyahu’s winning record but that the prime minister was now an electoral drag on Likud. “He brought us four times to government. But the writing is on the wall: there will be no fifth time.”

Analysts say Mr Saar’s chances of defeating Mr Netanyahu in the December 26 party election are slim but that the internal contest could weaken the prime minister going into the March 2 general election. 

Mr Saar served as Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary and interior minister but the prime minister has grown increasingly hostile towards the ambitious younger politician and last year accused him a plot to oust him. Mr Saar dismissed that as “a conspiracy theory”. 

Current polls show the Likud Party winning more seats under Mr Netanyahu’s leadership than under Mr Saar. 

However, the same polls show that the overall number of seats won by Right-wing parties rises under Mr Saar – suggesting he may have a better chance of forming a coalition government.   

The leadership competition will be decided by a simple majority of votes cast by the party’s 120,000 voters. A small group of Netanyahu supporters chanted “traitor” outside Mr Saar’s campaign launch.

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