Analysis: New probe offers array of legal, political scenarios

Then it was Winograd, now A-G Mazuz has the power to determine whether Olmert will have to step down.

Olmert 88 (photo credit: )
Olmert 88
(photo credit: )
The latest turn of events in the topsy-turvy political career of Ehud Olmert has unexpectedly brought us back to the days of the Winograd Committee of Investigation, when its five members held the fate of the prime minister and his cabinet in their hands. Now, it is Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz who has the power to determine whether Olmert will have to resign from office or carry on. Should Mazuz decide to indict the prime minister over the allegations currently under investigation in the new affair first reported Thursday night, and should the indictment include serious charges, Olmert would have to resign. The obligation is not included in the statute books, but is based on decisions handed down by the High Court of Justice in cases involving Shas leaders Aryeh Deri and Raphael Pinhasi. Deri was indicted on charges of corruption while serving as interior minister in the government of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. When he refused to resign and Rabin refused to fire him, the case reached the High Court, which ruled that because of the gravity of the charges against the interior minister and the importance of his office, Rabin must fire him. Pinhasi was forced to step down under similar circumstances. According to current law, the fact that the new criminal investigation by police is the fifth one Olmert is undergoing has no bearing on whether or not he may remain in office. The law does not take into account the number of investigations being conducted against a minister. As far as that is concerned, should Mazuz - or State Attorney Moshe Lador, who is currently reviewing the Bank Leumi investigation - decide to indict Olmert on serious charges in any of the other cases, the prime minister will have to resign. The reason the current investigation has attracted so much attention is the speed with which it is being carried out, and at least one statement attributed to an unnamed policeman who reportedly said the allegations in this case were more serious than in any of the others. Furthermore, the other four investigations have been under way for many months without a final decision having been made in any of them. Until now, only one of the four has reached the state prosecution for a final decision. The others are still under police investigation. Even if Mazuz decides to indict Olmert, leading to the automatic resignation not only of the prime minister but of all the ministers, the Knesset will continue to serve out its term if the president of the state can find a new MK to form a government capable of winning the Knesset's confidence. While these efforts are under way, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni would replace Olmert and serve as acting prime minister. Should the current coalition remain intact despite the charges against Olmert, Kadima would likely be able to carry on. The party would also hold a primary to choose Olmert's successor. Should the president fail to find a candidate from Kadima or any other party to form a new government, he would be obliged to call for a new election. Another possibility is that the Knesset would pass a vote of no-confidence in the government and bring it down. However, according to the law, such a motion would only go into effect if it were supported by an absolute majority of parliament and if at least 61 MKs agreed on a candidate who should form the next government. According to another scenario, the Knesset could pass a law to dissolve itself. Both of the latter scenarios would require that at least five MKs currently belonging to the coalition switch sides and vote against the government. It is possible that public pressure or political calculations could persuade enough MKs to defect. Currently the ball is in Mazuz's court. He is the one who will decide whether or not to indict the prime minister and on what charges. It's anyone's guess how long it will take the attorney-general to make up his mind. Based on past performance regarding all the other Olmert investigations, no one should hold his breath.