Barak: Labor may back new elections

Vows to lead push for vote if Kadima doesn't oust PM soon, but aides say he privately hopes for delay.

olmert very sad 224.88 (photo credit: Daniel Bar-On/Jini)
olmert very sad 224.88
(photo credit: Daniel Bar-On/Jini)
Unless Kadima holds a primary, selects a new chairman and forms a government to his liking, Ehud Barak intends to spearhead moves to dissolve the Knesset and call early general elections, the Labor party leader warned at the party's faction meeting in Tel Aviv on Thursday. At the same time, however, sources close to Barak revealed that behind the scenes, he has been preparing a maneuver that would block the Knesset from dissolving itself and prevent early elections. Barak has told confidants that he wants Labor to vote in favor of Likud MK Silvan Shalom's bill to dissolve the Knesset in a preliminary reading on June 25, but to vote against it in its three subsequent readings. Barak recently told Shalom he could only count on Labor's 19 MKs for the preliminary vote. For procedural reasons, Kadima will not be able to set a date for its primary by June 25, but it will do so before the final readings of the election bill in July - in time to satisfy Barak and prevent the legislation from passing by the time the Knesset goes on recess on July 31. In a primary that will likely be set for September 2, Kadima could then elect a new leader, who could form a government. Such a strategy would allow Barak to receive credit for taking steps to oust Prime Minister Ehud Olmert while avoiding an election at a time when Labor is faring poorly in the polls. "The political issue has functional and ethical components," Barak said at the beginning of the faction meeting. "The decision is for Olmert and his party to make. We prefer stability, and if a government in this Knesset is to our liking, we will consider helping to form it." "But if it's not possible, we will lead [the move toward] elections," he warned. "There is no point in making a formal decision that would obligate us before necessary decisions are made on the other side. It looks like we will join and lead the proposal for the preliminary vote on the bill to disperse the Knesset on June 25." "We prefer stability," Barak assured his party colleagues, but he added that "if reality requires it, we are not afraid of competing in the public arena in elections." Shortly after the meeting, Labor issued a statement reiterating Barak's comments. It confirmed that the party would support a bill to dissolve the Knesset on June 25 unless Kadima took "effective steps" toward a primary. The faction made the decision even though several MKs expressed opposition to pursuing elections in the meeting and accused Barak of going too far in that direction. Barak's move was criticized for different reasons by ministers Ghaleb Majadle, Yuli Tamir and Ami Ayalon and by MKs Amir Peretz, Yoram Marciano, Colette Avital, Nadia Hilou and Shakib Shanan. Ayalon and Vilna'i said the country did not need an election and Labor needed to prevent one from happening. Marciano was blunter, suggesting that Labor needed to delay the hit the party is expected to take at the polls. "You succeeded in your move against Olmert, but stop now, because we cannot go to elections," Marciano told Barak at the meeting. "Labor seems to have become the campaign manager for Bibi [Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu]. If there will be a November election, the Likud will get 40 mandates and a right-wing government will be formed. I say, wait a week and be patient. Maybe Kadima will expedite its primary and we will get what we want." Other Labor MKs spoke in favor of leaving the coalition immediately. Shelly Yacimovich accused Olmert of "holding the government hostage" and said that Kadima must hold a primary to replace him immediately. Channel 10 reported Thursday night that Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, who is very close to Olmert, advised him over lunch on Wednesday to suspend himself temporarily and allow Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to temporarily become prime minister. Itzik's office denied the report. A Ma'agar Mohot poll broadcast Thursday on Israel Radio found that the public wants to see the Knesset vote to disperse itself and set a date for elections, but Labor voters do not. The poll found that among the general public, 67 percent support dispersing the Knesset and only 17% oppose it. Among Labor Party members, only 7% believe the Knesset should vote on dispersing itself before Olmert's lawyers are allowed to cross-examine the key witness in the most recent corruption investigation against him, New York Jewish financier Morris Talansky. Some 29% would support dissolving the Knesset after that happens, while 36% oppose dispersing the Knesset in any case. Matt Zalen contributed to this report.