Kadima leadership battle starts early

The two front-runners in the Kadima leadership primaries, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, began trading barbs this week, even before an official date for the primaries had been decided.

The primaries are expected in September, after Kadima committed to them in return for Labour agreeing not to vote for early elections.

Four of the party’s ministers plan to run; Ms Livni and Mr Mofaz, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter. Party members will vote for a new leader who will try and extricate the party from the crisis brought upon it by the ongoing investigation in to alleged bribe-taking by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Ms Livni will focus her campaign on her clean image, having never been involved in a corruption scandal.

“Livni has one commanding advantage,” one of her advisors told the JC. “She is Kadima’s most popular leader, all the polls show that she has the best chances of leading it to electoral success and the party members don’t want to lose power.”

For the last few months, Ms Livni appeared in the polls as the clear front-runner but in surveys taken over the last two weeks, Mr Mofaz is closing the gap. He will portray himself as the most experienced candidate, highlighting his previous posts as IDF Chief of Staff and Defence Minister compared to Ms Livni’s lack of military experience.

Both have made an ideological turn to the right to attract grassroots voters. Last month, Mr Mofaz gave an interview in which he called for an Israeli strike on Iran and opposed any retreat on the Golan. Ms Livni said last week that Israel should attack Hamas for every violation of the Gaza ceasefire.

Ms Livni, who is planning a low-key, mainly internet-based campaign, took advantage on Monday of media reports on irregularities in the party’s membership drive to say that “some of us came from a party with insufferable practices [the Likud], we can’t allow ourselves to remain in that place”.

This was seen as a veiled attack on the Mofaz campaign, which is based on the traditional political practice of using local activists who command the loyalty of thousands of members.

Mr Mofaz’s people hit back, accusing Ms Livni of using “unbased allegations to weaken Mofaz and portray herself as the clean-handed candidate”.

Mr Sheetrit will present himself as the candidate of party unity. Serving in the Knesset from 1981, he is the party’s most veteran politician after Mr Olmert. Mr Dichter, a former Shin Bet Chief and relative newcomer, is running to bolster his standing in the party. He is expected to drop out at some stage and support one of the frontrunners.

Mr Olmert, however, is still hoping that the cross-examination of the main witness in his corruption case, Morris Talansky, in two weeks, will change the impression that Mr Talansky’s first appearance created. He has not ruled out the possibility of running himself and supporters suggest that Kadima should have another leadership race before the elections to give him a chance if exonerated.

    Last updated: 7:40am, July 4 2008