Electionscape: Likud digging for dirt on Olmert

Both runner-up parties realize that we've reached the stage where if they don't start catching up - and quickly - the elections are over.

anshel pfeffer 298.88 (photo credit: )
anshel pfeffer 298.88
(photo credit: )
"Hello, my name is Rinat and I work for the Likud," said the voice on the phone. "I understand that you used to fight a lot with Ehud Olmert, do you have anything on him that we can use?" Not that I don't enjoy reminiscing about my wild old days in Jerusalem's local press and the weekly spats with the hostile mayor, but I had to explain that as reporter covering the elections, I can't allow myself to assist one of the parties. If the Likud is hunting so hard for incriminating information on Olmert that it's started to enlist journalists, it must be really desperate. And I can understand. "Deep" polling shows that there is significant unrest among the voters with Olmert's conduct over the last few weeks, but it hasn't yet made any impression in the polls. Kadima is still way up in the low 40s, and the Likud is battling Labor for a poor second place. No wonder the elections suddenly got a lot dirtier this week. Both runner-up parties realize that we've reached the stage where if they don't start catching up - and quickly - the elections are over. Binyamin Netanyahu and Amir Peretz are still being introduced at party rallies as "the next prime minister," but they are fighting for their political survival. As one senior Likud candidate put it, "The Likud is busy now only making sure that it survives in the premier league." If Netanyahu's Likud comes out of the elections a second-league party, he won't last as leader until the end of 2006. Peretz won't even see Rosh Hashana in the job. Labor began stepping up its anti-sleaze campaign last week; it even has a special task force, headed by Shelly Yacimovich, whose job it is to try and prod the media into giving more prominence to features on sinister connections between Olmert and his allegedly crooked business cronies. This week two stories about suspicious deals involving Olmert surfaced on the NFC Web site, but surprisingly enough, Labor didn't pounce on them. Even the report that the state comptroller is looking into the sale of Olmert's villa didn't elicit more than a standard comment from the Labor spokesman, who called for a thorough investigation. Yacimovich was busy yesterday chairing a women's meeting in the Druse village of Usfiya. It seems that Labor has been warned by both overt and covert messages that allegations of corruption could well boomerang. The covert message was delivered by National Infrastructure Minister Roni Bar-On, who is fast becoming Kadima's chief hatchet man. On a TV show over the weekend, he hinted ominously about a "relationship" between Peretz and a senior Histadrut official who is the subject of a lawsuit filed last week by a disgruntled ex-employee. Ever since, there has been a dramatic reduction in the financial accusations between the two parties. Netanyahu wisely decided at an early stage in the campaign that the Likud, being the multistoried glass house that it is, wouldn't deal with the corruption issue. Instead the party intensified its "ideological" attacks on Olmert, and this week bought advertisement on 1,000 Egged buses and plastered on them the slogan "SmOlmert" (smol=left), but this only a variation on a theme it's been playing for the last month with scant results. Clutching at straws, Netanyahu is now trying to sacrifice his power base in the Likud central committee and proposing that in the next elections, the party's Knesset list be elected in partywide primaries. Here again the motivation is polls that show that if the much vilified committee were to lose its main source of influence, the party would gain half a dozen Knesset seats. That still means losing to Kadima by a wide margin, but at least Netanyahu would have salvaged something - perhaps enough to survive to fight another day.