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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Surprising, Amicable Baram Tops Israeli Labor Party Slate

JERUSALEM -- Tourism Minister Uzi Baram emerged as the surprise winner in Labor Party primaries Tuesday, beating out two rising stars seen as contenders for the job of prime minister once Shimon Peres quits politics.

Peres, 72, was already chosen as candidate for prime minister for the May 29 elections at an earlier party convention and did not compete in Monday's primaries.

With 70 percent of the vote counted Tuesday, the amicable, silver-haired Baram with his trademark lisp placed first among 185 candidates competing for Labor's parliamentary slate. The top 45 slots are considered "safe."

Baram, who served as Labor's secretary general in the late 1980s, attributed his success to integrity and said he might seek the nomination for the top job four years from now.

"I was in favor of talking to the PLO when no one in the party leadership was in favor," Baram told Israel radio. "I adopted many controversial positions when I was secretary general."

Surprising many political commentators, Baram scored higher than Foreign Minister Ehud Barak and Interior Minister Haim Ramon, two up-and-coming Labor leaders in their 40s who were pegged as possible Peres successors. Barak placed second and Barak placed fifth, according to preliminary results Tuesday.

A day after Labor's primaries, the opposition Likud Party also selected its slate of candidates, with some 175,000 party members eligible to vote and results expected around midnight Tuesday. Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu did not have to compete.

This year marks the first time Israelis elect a prime minister directly.