Rejecting Primaries, Lapid Says ‘Internal’ Leadership Vote To Be Held Next Year

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Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid announced Monday that he will not allow the party to hold open primaries to choose its chairman and, deflecting a challenge to his own leadership, said a decision on how to elect a party head will be made only next year.

“We started a process a few months ago to examine options for the democratization of the party. That’s the natural next step of a major party, of the alternative to the government,” Lapid said at the opening of the weekly Yesh Atid faction meeting a the Knesset.

“We are working with our branch heads so that we can hold the first party conference during 2021. At that conference, we will find the best way to hold internal elections for leader of the party,” he said, ruling out open primaries for all party members.

“Open primaries is vote bundlers, dirty deals, and all the things that are not, and never will be, part of our DNA. It is all the things that ruined other parties. That suggestion was rejected,” Lapid stressed.

Last week, prominent Yesh Atid lawmaker Ofer Shelah said that the centrist party has an “urgent” need to hold leadership primaries, which would be its first since its founding in 2012 by Lapid. Shelah announced he would contend for the leadership if primaries are held ahead of national elections, which many analysts believe are likely early next year.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid (R) and MK Ofer Shelah at a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on November 19, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“In the last few days, I have presented to Yair Lapid the urgent need to renew the face of Yesh Atid. The postponement of the Knesset elections allows us to do what is needed to build a worthy alternative [to the governing Likud] ahead of the next elections,” Shelah wrote on Facebook.

He added: “That must begin with immediate, open primaries for the role of party chairman. I will contend and I would be happy if there are others.”

Lapid on Monday called Shelah a “worthy candidate” and invited him to take part in the leadership election, when it eventually takes place.

“There will be an election, I welcome it and it’s time. But we’ll do it without pressure. No one sets me an ultimatum. I won’t let the things that ruined parties like Labor or Kadima to also ruin Yesh Atid.” Lapid said of other center-left parties that saw party primaries descend into damaging internal battles.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other political rivals have frequently needled Lapid and Yesh Atid over the party’s lack of primaries for leader and its election slate, which the premier’s Likud and a number of other Knesset factions hold.

Lapid, the current opposition leader, has led Yesh Atid since it was founded, and was later No. 2 in the Blue and White alliance, before breaking with Defense Minister Benny Gantz over his decision to join a government led by Netanyahu.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz (R) and the party’s then-No. 2 Yair Lapid, at a faction meeting in the Knesset on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90/File)

Lapid has insisted that he will be a prime ministerial candidate in the next elections and not be second on a party’s list, as he was in Blue and White. Recent polls have forecast that Yesh Atid would receive 19-20 seats if new elections were held, putting it neck-and-neck with the right-wing Yamina party to be the second-largest party in the Knesset after Likud.

New elections were narrowly avoided last month, after Likud and Blue and White agreed to push off the deadline to pass a state budget until December, but the parties remain at loggerheads on a number of issues and many analysts believe the government is still on life support and will not survive beyond the next deadline.

If, come December 23, the coalition still fails to agree on a budget, the country will head to new elections in March 2021, with Netanyahu not having to hand over the premiership to Gantz, as per their coalition deal.