olmert mofaz cabinet 224.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is seriously considering quitting the premiership following the mid-September Kadima leadership race if the winner can form a new government, Channel 1 diplomatic correspondent Ayala Hasson reported Friday.
Olmert told Hebrew newspapers in stories published Friday that he had not even started thinking about whether he should run in the primary, let alone about what to do if someone else won. But in the interviews, in which he lashed out at law enforcement authorities, he made clear that he understood that his political fate had already been decided in the court of public opinion.
Kadima's election committee, headed by retired judge Dan Arbel, will meet this week to choose a date for the primary between September 14 and 18. The committee will also set a deadline a month before that for candidates to join the race.
Should Olmert decide not to run, he would already be considered a lame duck, even though he could remain prime minister until after a spring 2009 general election if the winner of the Kadima race in September is unable to form a new government.
A Dahaf Institute poll of Kadima registered members published in Friday's Yediot Aharonot found that Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz had bridged the gap in his primary race against Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and now only trailed her by 2 percent in a head-to-head race.
According to the poll of 500 Kadima members, Livni would receive 47%, Mofaz 45% and the remaining 8% declined to answer. The poll had a 4.5% margin of error.
In a four-candidate race, Livni would win 38% of the vote, Mofaz 33%, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter 13% and Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit 8%. Livni went down by 3% and Mofaz up the same amount since a poll was taken by the same company two weeks ago. If no candidate receives 40% of the vote, it would set up a runoff between the two top finishers.
The poll disproved hopeful statements by Livni's associates last week that Olmert's fierce attack on her would help her gain support.
Channel 2 reported last Monday that Olmert called her a "backstabbing liar" and warned that she was the least qualified candidate in the race.
Mofaz's associates said the poll results proved that Kadima members were starting to realize that "the complex security challenges required a prime minister with security experience and abilities and that's what Mofaz will bring to the Prime Minister's Office."
But they also stressed that "there is a long race ahead and we will not rest on our laurels."
Hasson reported that due to the closeness of the race, top Kadima officials who were close to Olmert would not endorse a candidate. She included in that category ministers Haim Ramon and Ronnie Bar-On, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik and Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzahi Hanegbi.
But Hanegbi said he had not decided yet whether to make an endorsement.
"I am waiting for Olmert's decision one way or another about whether he will run," Hanegbi said. "If he decides not to run, I might decide not to support anyone, but I haven't decided yet."
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