Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's close friend and Kadima campaign manager Reuven Adler was condemned across the political spectrum idea on Wednesday for his proposal to place Sharon first on the Kadima list.
According to the proposal, Sharon would head the Kadima list but acting prime minister Ehud Olmert would be the party's candidate for the premiership. For this to happen, Sharon would have to recover from his stroke enough to sign a document declaring his candidacy by the February 7 central elections committee deadline.
Sharon's associates said on Wednesday night that the idea was "more emotional than practical" and "just wishful thinking" on Adler's part and not a serious proposal. But Sharon's political opponents took the idea very seriously, accusing Kadima of taking advantage of the ailing prime minister for political gain.
"The fact that the heads of Kadima are ready to enlist Sharon for their election campaign while he is fighting for his life proves once again that they have no limits," a Labor Party spokesman said. "At a time when the people of Israel are praying for his health, in Kadima they are busy with attempts to take advantage of him. A party that cannot differentiate between good taste and bad is not fitting to run the country."
National Union MK Yitzhak Levy called upon Kadima to "let the sick old man rest and enjoy the rest of his days in the company of his family, his children and grandchildren, and stop shaming his name with political spin."
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said that as a longtime friend of Sharon, he felt bad that the people around him were manipulating him. Rivlin said that it was unfair that Kadima was politicking while other parties have undertaken a moratorium on political activity out of respect for Sharon.
Shinui leader Yosef Lapid said he found it "tasteless and sickening that they are making Sharon into another Lubavitcher Rebbe," referring to the rabbi of the Chabad hassidim, who was declared the messiah by some followers after his death.
Kadima MKs praised the idea. MK Shimon Peres, who would be pushed from second to third on the list if Sharon returned, said that it would be appropriate for the prime minister to be in the top slot if it were possible.
"Placing Sharon first on the list expresses hope that he will get well and it's a clear statement that the prime minister is the founding father of the party, first in the hearts of the nation, and his path will be used as a guiding light," Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim said.
Olmert is expected to start meeting next week with people who Sharon wanted to add to the Kadima list. He will convene the Kadima faction on Monday for the first time since Sharon's stroke.
If Sharon cannot communicate by the end of next week, Olmert will appoint the six ministers who Sharon had intended to add to the cabinet. Olmert, who currently holds 11 portfolios, wants to ease his load as soon as possible. The new ministers will be Peres, Boim, Deputy Internal Security Minister Ya'acov Edri, and MKs Haim Ramon, Dalia Itzik and Roni Bar-On.
Posters were plastered in Jerusalem on Wednesday with Peres's face and the Kadima logo. Kadima officials blamed Kach activists who want to paint the party as leftist.