Labor candidates support Olmert probe

Barak rivals hope investigation of one Ehud will hurt the other.

Ehud Barak 298.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
Ehud Barak 298.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Candidates for the Labor Party leadership reacted with glee to the opening of a criminal investigation against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and expressed hope that the probe would hasten the next general election. Two of the candidates connected the possible downfall of one Ehud to their political rival with the same name, former prime minister Ehud Barak, who is close to Olmert. The probe, they hoped, would make Labor members realize that they should not be led in the next election by Barak, who was investigated for raising campaign funds illegally. "The [investigation] requires Labor to prepare for the possibility of early elections in which the central issue will be the struggle against corruption and the restoring of the public's trust in the political system," MK Ami Ayalon said. "Labor can only return to power if it is led by people with clean hands who represent a different kind of politics." MK Ophir Paz-Pines will emphasize in his campaign that there is no difference between one Ehud and the other and that there will be no difference between Kadima and Labor if they are both led by "Ehuds." "Every prime minister elected since 1996 was investigated, and the people of Israel deserve a leadership that does not visit police interrogation rooms," Paz-Pines said. Barak's spokeswoman responded that he was cleared of all charges. She said he did not want to respond to the investigation against Olmert. Incumbent Labor Chairman Amir Peretz also declined to respond to the probe of Olmert because he did not want to be perceived as celebrating the blow suffered by his political sparring partner. MK Danny Yatom said Labor members must judge the candidates on their ability to rehabilitate the party and lead it to victory in the election. Meanwhile, Olmert's foes in Kadima already have started talking about the party's potential future without the prime minister. They said that although Vice Prime Minister Tzipi Livni would automatically replace Olmert if he decided to step down, Kadima could then hold an internal election and propose a new candidate for the president to recommend for the premiership without dispersing the Knesset or initiating a general election. In such a scenario, it is possible that Kadima's leaders would decide that they prefer to see Vice Premier Shimon Peres in the Prime Minister's Office and not Livni. Kadima officials said it would be important to avoid holding a general election due to the party's poor standing in the polls. Opposition MKs called upon Olmert to suspend himself or step down. Meretz leader Yossi Beilin said that if Olmert did not suspend himself and let Livni take over, Meretz would work in the Knesset to force Olmert to do so. National Religious Party chairman Zevulun Orlev said it was only fitting that Olmert would suspend himself because the prime minister had called for the head of the anti-corruption unit of the State Comptroller's Office, Ya'akov Borovsky, to suspend himself due to the investigation against him. MK Yoel Hasson of Kadima defended Olmert, expressing confidence that "the investigation will end quickly with Olmert's full exoneration and the confirmation of Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer's praise of Olmert's handling of the sale of Bank Leumi."