Background: Olmert's exit is not so simple... or speedy

Charting the legal steps to the prime minister's planned resignation.

olmert quits 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert quits 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Should Prime Minister Ehud Olmert remain in office, as he expects to do, until Kadima votes for its party leader on September 17, he has announced that he will resign once the results of the primary have been made official and a new chairman has been chosen. However, according to the law, the moment Olmert resigns, the members of his government will also resign and the ministers, headed by Olmert, will automatically begin serving as a caretaker government. In these circumstances, Article 7 (a) of the Basic Law: The Government (2001) will be applied. According to the provision, "When a new government has to be constituted, the president of the state shall, after consultation with representatives of party groups in the Knesset, assign the task of forming a government to a Knesset member who has notified him that he is prepared to accept the task; the president shall do so within seven days of the publication of the election results, or [as in the current case] should the need arise to form a new government." The president traditionally appoints the MK who appears to have the best chance of winning the support of at least 60 of his colleagues for a new government under his leadership. The appointed MK has 28 days to form a new government. At the end of that period, the president can extend the time allotted by 14 days. If by this time the appointed MK has not gotten back to the president, or has informed him that he cannot muster a majority for a new government, or has presented a government to the Knesset and had it rejected, "the president may assign the task of forming a government to another Knesset member who has notified him that he is prepared to accept the task, or may inform the speaker of the Knesset that he sees no possibility of forming a government." The president must choose one of these alternatives within three days of the time that the appointed MK failed to form a government. However, before assigning another MK the task or informing the speaker that there is no hope of forming a government, the president may hold another round of consultations with the Knesset parties. The second appointed MK has 28 days to form a government. If he fails to do so, "a majority of the members of the Knesset may request, in writing, that the president of the state assign the task to a particular member of the Knesset, who so agreed in writing." This must take place within 21 days of the second candidate's failure to assemble a government or the president's statement to the Knesset speaker that he sees no chance of forming a government. This third MK has 14 days to form a government. If he fails to do so, "the Knesset shall be deemed to have decided to disperse and an election for the Knesset will be held on the last Tuesday before the end of 90 days of the president's announcement or of the rejection of the request [to the Knesset] for confidence in the new government." Should an MK charged with forming a government succeed in doing so, he must notify the president and the Knesset speaker. The speaker then sets a date for the presentation of the government within seven days of the notification. The law also determines that should the prime minister be temporarily unable to discharge his duties, his place will be filled by an acting prime minister. This arrangement may last 100 days. At the end of that period, the prime minister will be deemed permanently unable to exercise his office and the government will fall. One troublesome question that has arisen is what will happen should the prosecution indict Olmert before Kadima holds its primary on September 17. In that case, assuming that Olmert keeps his word and immediately resigns, the government will fall and Olmert will remain prime minister of a caretaker government until another MK forms a new government or until an election is held and the winner forms a government with Knesset approval. This means that Olmert would serve as prime minister even though a criminal indictment had been served against him. According to Suzie Navot of the Academic Branch of the College of Administration, Olmert does not have to resign by law. Even the High Court of Justice ruling that ordered Aryeh Deri, a minister, and Raphael Pinhasi, a deputy minister, to resign after they were indicted has not yet been proven to apply to a prime minister. According to Kadima sources, should such a situation develop, the party would immediately advance its primary to choose a new leader so that the process of forming a new government could begin that much sooner, in the hopes of ending the embarrassing situation. However, that does not necessarily guarantee that the new leader would be able to form a government from among the parties in the existing Knesset. Another option that has been mentioned is that Olmert would resign, become prime minister of a caretaker government, and then declare that he is unable to discharge his duties. According to the law, if he does so, Vice Premier Tzipi Livni will become the acting prime minister. This could cause problems within Kadima since she is contesting the party leadership and this "promotion" might be regarded by her opponents as giving her an unfair advantage. There may be a way out of this problem. The law states that "failing the appointment of a designated acting prime minister, or should the acting prime minister be prevented from fulfilling his duties, the government shall designate another minister to exercise that office." Thus, if Livni is prevented from fulfilling the duties of acting prime minister, the government could choose someone else until the primary vote. It is not clear, however, whether the law would consider opposition from Livni's rivals a good enough reason to determine that she is "prevented from fulfilling her duties."