The countdown to the end of Ehud Olmert’s premiership will begin next week, when senior Kadima members will meet to agree upon a date for primaries for a new leader.
Mr Olmert has signalled that he will not oppose the move, though he is still maintaining that he has no plans to resign. Meanwhile, support is growing in the Knesset for bringing forward the elections.
MK Tzachi Hanegbi will convene the meeting of Kadima’s Party Affairs Committee next Wednesday. Representatives of all four prospective candidates, ministers Tzipi Livni, Shaul Mofaz, Meir Sheetrit and Avi Dichter will take part. The move comes as a result of pressure both within the party and from other coalition members to find a way out of the impasse caused by the investigation of Mr Olmert’s alleged bribe-taking.
Mr Olmert is hoping that the cross-examination of key witness Morris Talansky by his own lawyers in two weeks’ time will prove that the corruption suspicions are baseless. According to sources in his office, Mr Olmert understands that he has to allow his party to move along since the current situation will cause the political structure to implode.
“As it is,” an adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office told the JC, “we can’t really do anything now on any policy front. The whole system is paralysed.”
Another factor influencing the decision has been the pressure brought on the government by Kadima’s two main coalition partners, Labour and Shas. Labour Leader and Defence Minister Ehud Barak announced last week that if Kadima did not appoint a new leader, Labour would support early elections. Shas’s Council of Sages also voted this week to support early elections after the government refused the party’s demands to raise child benefit.
A vote on early elections will be brought to the Knesset in two weeks and with Labour and Shas support, it is certain to pass. Both parties are not doing well in opinion polls, and if Kadima can prove that it is on the way to ousting Mr Olmert, they would be prepared to renegotiate their coalition agreements and holding elections only in late 2010.