(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
An angry Labor chairman Amir Peretz initiated legislation on Monday requiring open primaries in every party of 10 MKs or more, in an effort to take revenge against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for drafting an electoral reform plan behind his back.
Olmert drew Peretz's ire when he announced at Thursday's Kadima council meeting that he had reached a deal with the heads of Israel Beiteinu and the Pensioners Party on a series of measures that would strengthen the office of prime minister at the Knesset's expense. Peretz called the measure undemocratic and decided to get even.
At Labor's faction meeting at the Knesset, Peretz said he instructed Labor faction chairman Yoram Marciano to submit a bill requiring primaries that MK Meir Sheetrit submitted three years ago when he was in Likud. The bill would force every party with 10 or more mandates to elect their MKs among their party membership as a whole.
The bill would harm Peretz's foe, Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, who chose his MKs among a small group of party activists, and Shas, whose candidates are chosen by its mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Kadima and Likud already decided to change their systems and elect their next Knesset slates in open primaries.
"The coalition agreement says that all its factions must agree to changes in the Basic Laws," Peretz told the faction. "If someone wants to do things independently, then we can also find our own partners who will support the electoral system that we believe in."
In a jab at Lieberman, Peretz said, "Whoever wants good governance has to accept the democratic culture in their own party."
Lieberman said the defense minister should concentrate on making Israel safe instead of this "political spin."
Peretz also lashed out at efforts in his own party to delay the Labor leadership race. Some of his rivals have attempted to delay the race that is currently set for May 2007 while others have tried to advance the primary to as early as February.
"I support holding the election in its set time," Peretz said. "I don't have any intention of delaying the election. The party has a constitution and it must be respected."
One minister said that holding the election before May was technically impossible. But Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, who chairs Labor's house committee, said a February primary would be possible if Labor would not hold a new membership drive, and the race could not be held until August if a drive did takes place.
Without a membership drive, the race would be held among less than 60,000 members, a significant number of whom are elderly kibbutzniks, who Labor officials said would help the political comeback of Simhon's ally, former prime minister Ehud Barak. But Simhon said it was not clear whether Barak would decide to run.
The Labor house committee will meet on Friday to appoint subcommittees that will decide how and when the race will be run. The Labor central committee will meet in mid-December to finalize the decisions and officially kick off the race.
Peretz's associates said the reason he wanted to hold the election in May was that he expected the Winograd Commission that was investigating the war in Lebanon to issue a report by then that would clear his name and boost his popularity.
A Labor minister compared Peretz's boast that he was ready for a May election to Iran's announcement on Sunday that the country was ready for an Israeli attack.
"He was just trying to warn his rivals not to try to scare him," the minister said.