Analysis: Clouds gather over PM

How zealously will the police and justice minister pursue a case against Olmert?

olmert 88 (photo credit: )
olmert 88
(photo credit: )
Even if the attorney-general does decide to launch an official criminal investigation over Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's involvement in the selling of Bank Leumi, it will not send shock waves through the establishment nor paralyze the functioning of the government - it's barely functioning as it is. The main question facing Olmert now is just how zealously the police and justice minister would pursue his case. High-profile probes are almost always long and laborious, especially ones involving the prime minister. There would be little serious pressure on Olmert to resign at this stage. He's simply joined the ranks of the past three prime ministers, all of whom were the subject of investigations while in office. Supreme Court precedents have already established that a minister need resign only after charges have officially been brought against him; a criminal investigation is not enough. So whether or not Olmert manages to get off the hook like his predecessors, he's relatively assured of at least a few more months in office if a probe is launched. The official opposition is too weak at present to topple his government and the inner opposition within his coalition and Kadima is currently too disorganized to mount a rebellion. But all that might be changing. "I still believe that Kadima was a good idea," said a member of the Kadima Council this week, "taking the good things from the Right and the Left after Likud and Labor so obviously failed, and there's no reason the party shouldn't continue to exist; we just have to solve our leadership problem." Even before the latest legal development, it was hard to find many Kadima members who were willing to consider running in the next elections with Olmert at their head. Most of the politicians who left their former parties to join Kadima and the newcomers from outside the political arena still believe in the party's raison d'etre: to break the right-left deadlock, come up with a comprehensive peace plan with wide public support and push through a radical reform of the elections process. They have no other political home. They joined the party because they believed that Ariel Sharon could deliver all this, and despite Olmert not being their first choice as Sharon's successor, they were willing to give him a chance after he took his place under tragic circumstances. That's all over, and aside from the small group of Olmert loyalists, most of the rest of Kadima members have lost patience, and this week's news only pushed more of them out of his camp. Some of them even think that it would be best for the party if Olmert was to be forced out of office by an indictment, thereby saving the party a damaging insurrection and succession battle. Both will almost certainly break out if Olmert, despite everything, tries to lead the party in the next elections. If Olmert is left with no choice but to leave, Vice Prime Minister Tzipi Livni automatically takes his place as premier. But that doesn't make her the leader of Kadima or its candidate for prime minister in the next elections. Her colleagues might give her a few months of peace as temporary prime minister, but this time the field will be open. Livni's decision to support Olmert immediately after Sharon's second stroke is widely credited for stabilizing the party and allowing it to continue on and win the elections. If Olmert goes, no one is going to do the same kind of favor for Livni. Other senior ministers see themselves just as worthy for the top job. Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit positioned himself this week when he reminded Olmert in an answer to journalists' questions that "he's only first among equals," and criticized him for lack of team-work. When the leadership fight is held, he'll be there as will Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who will remind party members of Livni's relative lack of experience, especially when compared to his CV of IDF chief of General Staff and defense minister. Livni's main selling point will be her popularity among the wider public. Kadima members will ultimately vote for the leader they believe can keep the party in power. She already knows that all eyes are on her and after a couple of weeks of intense publicity, in which she revealed her own peace plan in media interviews, she saw like everyone else the polls that put her support among Kadima voters at 61 percent to Olmert's 24. Now she'll put her head down, try to keep out of the media limelight, quietly build her personal political organization and wait for her chance.