Labor leaders prepare for battle
Party to discuss date for primary that will pit Peretz against challengers.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
October 26, 2006 02:12
2 minute read.
ami ayalon stern 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Labor Party's leadership race is set to shift into high gear on Thursday when the party's house committee will hold its first meeting on setting a date for the primary that will pit incumbent Amir Peretz against several challengers.
The leadership contenders are expected to battle over whether the primary should be held in May, as mandated by party bylaws requiring a leadership race every time a Labor candidate for prime minister loses a general election.
Meretz woos disgruntled Laborites
The house committee chairman, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, wants to change the bylaws and delay the race.
A delay in the race would be beneficial to Simhon's political ally, former prime minister Ehud Barak, and to Peretz. The Labor leader said last month that he wanted the election on time in May, but officials close to him have been working since then to delay the race.
"Peretz says he wants the election in May, but he is doing the opposite," MK Matan Vilna'i said. "That's what Amir Peretz is all about, saying one thing and doing the opposite."
Other Labor leadership contenders want the race to be held as soon as possible, including Vilna'i, MK Avishay Braverman, Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ophir Paz-Pines and MK Ami Ayalon, who is seen as the front-runner in the race.
A Teleseker poll of Labor members published Wednesday in Ma'ariv found that if the election was held today, Ayalon would finish first with 35 percent, followed by Barak with 23%, Peretz with 17% and Braverman with 14%. In a head-to-head race, Barak would beat Peretz by a hefty margin, 47% to 32%.
Paz-Pines was not included in the poll because he has not officially decided whether to run. Paz-Pines will make a decision on Monday on whether to quit the government to protest Israel Beiteinu's addition. If he decides to quit, it would be a sign that he has decided to run.
Ayalon has been a very vocal critic of Peretz recently. He said he wants the Labor race to be held as soon as possible, because he believes that Israel needs a different defense minister. If Ayalon wins the race, he intends to replace Peretz as defense minister and keep Labor in the coalition to get ministerial experience and rehabilitate the army.
"Even before the war in Lebanon, I said that people must wake up and realize who is leading us," Ayalon said in an interview with Yediot Aharonot. "From election day, Peretz has betrayed its voters on all its banners. What has brought the party down from 19 mandates to the 10 seats the polls predict is not internal rivalries in Labor but the fact that we talked about socioeconomic issues and clean politics in the election and we have surrendered on everything."