ehud barak face298 88 aj.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
After eight months of speculation about whether the Labor Party will hold its next leadership primary in May, the party's house committee decided on Thursday that the two possible dates for the election will be March 13 and June 5.
The Labor central committee will convene on December 14 to decide between those two dates and officially ignite a Labor leadership race in which as many as nine candidates are considering running.
The party's bylaws require a leadership race within 14 months after a Labor prime ministerial candidate loses a general election, which would mean holding the race by May 28. The house committee decided that holding the election a week later would not violate the bylaws and would maximize the time for a new membership drive.
The house committee's chairman, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, asked that the March date also be considered because if the election were held so soon, there would not be enough time to hold a membership drive.
Labor's past few leadership races have been marred by controversial membership drives that ended in court. If there is no drive, the race will be held among some 60,000 current Labor members, the majority of whom have been members for decades.
"Simhon wants to have the vote among people who have remained in the party through thick and thin and not among temporary hitchhikers," Simhon's spokesman said.
Another unstated reason that Simhon wants to avoid a membership drive is that it would help the political comeback of his ally, former prime minister Ehud Barak. If the race is held in June, Barak may decide not to run.
"The election should be held as soon as possible because of what is happening now in the country," said former deputy defense minister Weizmann Shiri, a Barak loyalist. "The war in Lebanon proved that this country needs an experienced leader it can trust and we can not afford to play games. Ehud Barak served the country for 40 years and he feels a responsibility to return."
Labor's secretary-general, Minister-without-Portfolio Eitan Cabel, said the election should be held as late as possible because without the funds brought in by a membership drive, the bankrupt party would not be able to finance the election.
The front-running candidate in the race, MK Ami Ayalon, has not decided yet which date to support. A source close to him said he had already signed up "well over 5000" new members to support him in the race.
An aide to the incumbent candidate, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, said he wanted the election in June because he has succeeding in registering many people. The aide said that holding the race in March would be "political thievery."
A source close to Peretz said another reason he wanted to hold the election in June is that he expected the Winograd Commission that is investigating the war in Lebanon to issue a report by then that would clear his name and boost his popularity.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Peretz met one-on-one for a few minutes at the end of a security meeting on Thursday. Peretz said Labor wanted to receive the Social Affairs portfolio, and the prime minister said he would look into the matter in upcoming days.
Peretz said he would only announce after it is clear whether Labor received the Social Affairs portfolio who would replace former Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ophir Paz-Pines in the cabinet.