Israel PM Netanyahu easily wins party vote: Spokesman

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu easily won a primary vote to remain leader of the ruling rightwing Likud party ahead of a snap election on March 17. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu easily won a primary vote to remain leader of the ruling rightwing Likud party ahead of a snap election on March 17. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu easily won a primary vote to remain leader of the ruling rightwing Likud party ahead of a snap election on March 17, the group's spokesman said on Thursday.

"With nearly 60 per cent of the ballots counted, Benjamin Netanyahu took 80 per cent of the vote and Danny Danon (his only rival) 20 per cent," Ms Noga Katz told AFP, adding that the final results will be known later on Thursday.

Likud’s 96,651 members also voted to determine front runners on the party list for the March 17 general election.The party last held a primary in January 2012, when members voted out three leading moderates, heralding a shift to the right now likely to be further cemented after Wednesday’s ballot.Mr Netanyahu is seeking a fourth term in office, after becoming premier in 2009 following a first term from 1996 to 1999.General elections had been due in late 2017, but the polls were brought forward by Mr Netanyahu in early December after the collapse of his fractious coalition.Polls suggest Likud is likely to face a challenge from a centre-left alliance of the opposition Labour party and the centrist HaTnuah of former justice minister Tzipi Livni in the upcoming national vote.