Court likely to decide Labor race date [pg.4]

Loophole in party constitution may prevent primary from being held before February 2009.

labor ad 298.88 (photo credit:
labor ad 298.88
(photo credit:
A decision on when the Labor Party will hold its leadership race that had been expected on Thursday may not be made until 2007, due to a dispute between incumbent Amir Peretz and his political rivals. The Labor central committee was set to meet in Tel Aviv on Thursday to decide between Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel's proposal to hold the race on June 5 and Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon's call for a March 13 race. But the vote will likely be delayed until January because of a loophole in the party constitution that may prevent the primary from being held before February 2009. Labor's internal court will convene on Wednesday to issue a ruling on the loophole. Peretz's lawyers will argue that the loophole requires a 2009 election, while his rival, MK Ami Ayalon, is expected to push for an election as soon as possible. Party officials said that whichever side loses the ruling would likely appeal to another internal party court and then to the Tel Aviv District Court. "It's sad but true that everything important in Labor ends up getting decided in court," a source close to Cabel said. Peretz convened his closest aides and advisers over the weekend to discuss when would be the opportune time for the primary to be held. The aides expressed outrage that no one had found the loophole until last week. "Amir was seeking elections in May, because they hid from him that the race could be held in 2009," a Peretz aide said. "We will let the party constitution decide when the race will be. If it says it should be in two months, that's fine, but if it says in two years, then the race will be held in two years." Labor activists close to Peretz last Wednesday discovered a clause in the constitution that extended a requirement to hold a primary within 14 months of Labor losing a general election to 35 months. They found that a measure that was enacted at a 2004 Labor convention to extend Shimon Peres's tenure as interim party chairman changed the constitution and set a precedent that Peretz could use to remain in power. Pending decisions by the internal courts and the possible district court case, the Labor house committee chaired by Simhon that finished its work last month will have to reconvene to restart the process of approving the date for the primary that will be finalized in a January central committee meeting. MK Ophir Paz-Pines, who is also a candidate for the Labor Party leadership, called the maneuver "cheap and miserable manipulation." He said that it was "shameful" that Peretz was "trying to run away from the election" and it would be "shameful" if the election date was decided in court. He said that peretz was taking advantage of the Labor constitution for personal reasons and causing irreparable damage to the party.