Kadima's 20-minute leadership sprint

Party approves September primary at meeting that ends before candidates have even arrived.

kadima 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
kadima 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The race to succeed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Kadima began with controversy on Thursday as the party's council meeting ended abruptly amid charges of dirty politics. The council convened at Kadima's Petah Tikva headquarters to approve a proposal to elect a new leader in mid-September and a possible runoff race between the top two candidates by September 25. The proposal passed unanimously without any debate, and the meeting ended after just 20 minutes. Olmert's critics charged that they had been prevented from speaking at the event and from presenting a proposal demanding that Olmert resign immediately after the primary. Former Kadima MK Uriel Reichman accused Kadima council chairman Meir Nitzan of acting as "Olmert's yes-man." Nitzan responded that no one had requested to speak. Kadima leadership candidates, ministers and MKs arrived after the meeting ended with speeches in their pockets, and some expressed disappointment that they did not get to deliver them. But the front-running candidate, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, told reporters afterward that she was not upset. "Despite all the mess, this is a good day for Kadima, because the party is starting to fix things, to return to itself, to return Israel to itself and to restore the people's faith in politics," Livni said. "Life is more than manipulations," she added. "There's what's right, and that's what will happen. Kadima will elect a new chairman who will be its prime minister, and may the best woman win." Livni's associates said her strategy was to win the primary and form a government so she could compete from the Prime Minister's Office in the next general election against the former prime ministers who head Likud and Labor. They said she was sure she could form a new government and prevent an immediate election, despite Shas's high asking price. "She can form a government, because the Knesset members have proven that they do not want to go home," a Livni associate said. "She understands that she has to pay a price, especially with a vote on the state budget coming up, but she is not willing to pay every price, and it would not necessarily have to be to Shas." Sources close to Livni said they were not concerned that Olmert would try to remain prime minister after the primary if she could form a new government, even though he has not committed to this in writing. They said Kadima and Labor MKs would insist on him leaving at that point, and he would have to comply. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who is running an increasingly close second to Livni in the polls, said in closed conversations that if he won the race, he would not call upon Olmert to resign. He said it would help him form a new government if potential coalition partners realized that Olmert could remain prime minister until an election could be held, no earlier than February, unless a new coalition was formed. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, who is also a candidate, told reporters after the council meeting that Kadima would get into the general election in better shape no matter who won the primary, as long as it was not Olmert. The prime minister has not ruled out running, but his associates deemed it extremely unlikely. "When a candidate is elected in the primary, I'm sure Olmert is experienced enough to realize he has to pass the reins to the new leader who will be able to form a government that will last until 2010," Dichter said.