livni press 248 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
The February 10 general election is still 19 days away, but Kadima ministers and MKs have already started lamenting in private conversations that they would have had a much better chance of winning had Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz won the party's leadership race.
The gap between Likud and Kadima has been growing since the end of Operation Cast Lead. A Geocartographic Institute poll broadcast on Channel 1 found that the Likud's lead had grown to 12 seats, 33 to 21.
The polls have hurt morale in the party, causing ministers and MKs who supported Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in the Kadima leadership race to regret that they did not endorse a candidate with a security background like Mofaz, a former IDF chief of General Staff. Livni beat Mofaz in the September 17 primary by only 431 votes.
"The issue of this election was set by the war in Gaza, and I have no doubt that Mofaz, as a security man, could have been a better candidate as head of Kadima against [Likud leader Binyamin] Netanyahu and [Labor chairman] Ehud Barak," said a Kadima MK who supported Mofaz in the primary.
One Kadima Knesset candidate who supported Mofaz said that several ministers and MKs had told him that they were sorry they had supported Livni.
Yuval Zellner, who served as Mofaz's campaign manager in the primary and is now 34th on the party's list, said he doubted he would enter the Knesset or that Kadima would win the election. Zellner said that had Mofaz won the primary, he would have formed a government, and elections would not have been held until 2010.
"I have no doubt that Mofaz would have brought a much better achievement for Kadima," Zellner said. "Tzipi is a good person and a fitting candidate, but the public would have preferred Mofaz - not only because of Gaza, but more importantly because of the nuclear threat from Iran."
Kadima council chairman Meir Nitzan, the former Rishon Lezion mayor who supported Mofaz in the primary, wrote a letter to Livni on Wednesday telling her that due to problems with her behavior, he had decided to leave the party and support the Likud in the election.
Kadima responded that Nitzan was acting "shamefully," because of his recent political losses and the party's refusal to pay his campaign debts.
However, Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim, who also supported Mofaz in the primary, defended Livni. He said there was still plenty of time for Kadima to close the gap and win the race.
"The dust of the war will evaporate, and the issues we talked about before the war will come back," Boim predicted. "People will forget the war and will remember that two of the candidates were unsuccessful prime ministers before, while Livni has experience, honesty, integrity and courage. We were tied with Likud before the war, and we can come back with a smart campaign."
Boim said Livni had proven herself during Operation Cast Lead and should be given credit for its diplomatic achievements, such as the international effort to prevent arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip.
"I don't know what Bibi did in the war other than talk," Boim said. "He certainly wasn't a partner in the decisions like she was. If there are achievements in the war, all three in the triumvirate deserve credit, and Livni's cannot be taken away."
A more dovish MK in Kadima said that despite the war in Gaza, he was still glad he had supported Livni, and he still believed she would bring the party more mandates than Mofaz would have.
"I just don't think he would have been the right alternative to the Likud," the MK said. "We would have lost the entire center and Left, former Labor and Shinui voters, and that's where our mandates come from."
Mofaz himself was asked on Army Radio on Wednesday whether he would have brought the party more seats than Livni due to his security background. He responded diplomatically.
"The internal elections in Kadima are over," he said.