Kadima rivals battle for party’s support

By Anshel Pfeffer, August 7, 2008

The front-runners in the Kadima leadership primary began a mad scramble this week to garner as many endorsements as possible from their fellow parliamentarians.

As this is the party's first primary, the make-up of its membership is still unclear, therefore the support of other MKs is seen as crucial.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, currently leading in the polls, has gathered official endorsements from five Knesset members so far - including one minister - to Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz's one.

Kadima has 29 Knesset members, of whom four have announced their candidacy, and resigning Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Knesset Speaker Dalya Itzik have stated they will not be endorsing a candidate, which leaves 17 MKs up for grabs. Both candidates were making calls throughout the week to as yet undeclared colleagues.

"Tzipi is saying to people that she has the best chance of winning a general elections," said one MK, "which appeals to those afraid to lose their Knesset seats, and Mofaz is saying that he has the better to chance to form a government without going for elections, which makes some MKs think he might appoint them as ministers."

The Mofaz campaign is relying on the alliances that he made with local party-bosses, who promise they can deliver thousands of votes.

"We will prove that Kadima is a real grassroots party and that Tzipi appeals to the rank-and-file members," an advisor to the Livni campaign told the JC, "but by getting more endorsements we will reassure more members."

Mr Mofaz, who according to the polls has begun to close the gap between him and Ms Livni, was worried this week that a momentum was starting to build in favour of his rival, so asked the MKs to wait at least until his official campaign launch on Tuesday night.

"Many MKs are trying to deflect the pressure by saying that they don't want to announce who they are supporting before the Ninth of Av," MK Shlomo Mula told the JC, "but I believe that most of them will eventually go for Tzipi."

Mr Mula was the first MK to openly endorse the Foreign Minister.

In another attempt to shake Ms Livni's lead, Mofaz supporters tried to field a motion that would have forced all the candidates to commit themselves to staying in the party, even if they lost.

Ms Livni refused to make such a commitment and the motion was defeated at a meeting of the Kadima parliamentary faction on Monday.

"It was an insult for her, a founder of Kadima, unlike Mofaz, who stayed at first in the Likud, to make such a commitment," said Mr Mula. "And besides, how can she commit to staying in the party if it might adopt far-right positions in the future?"

Last updated: 11:07am, August 7 2008