Lax turnout for Kadima vote on September primary

Low turnout considered to favor Olmert as failure to approve the primary will allow him to buy time as prime minister.

The vote promised to come down to the wire Sunday as members of Kadima's governing council dragged their feet in turning out for a key vote to change the party by-laws and allow for a leadership primary in September. Although voting began for the 180 members of the council last week, as of Sunday morning only 74 people had reported to the party headquarters to cast their ballot. The low turnout was considered to favor current Kadima chairman Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, as failure to approve the primary will allow him to buy time as prime minister, in spite of the agreement reached with the Labor Party last month. A simple majority of council members - 91 votes - is needed to change Kadima party regulations in order to hold the primary. Although supporters of Olmert's rivals for leadership of the party claimed that he was calling on supporters not to cast votes, Olmert's supporters denied all such claims. Kadima director-general Adi Sternberg said Saturday night that rumors that the vote deadline had been extended beyond Sunday night were not accurate, but that "if necessary, we could decide to extend the voting by a day or two." In light of the poor turnout, Party Affairs Committee chairman MK Tzahi Hangebi tried last week to drive up the vote count, but Kadima officials said Saturday night that he was now changing his strategy, and attempting to extend the vote deadline. Primary front-runner Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had advocated a system by which the party's council - most of whom hold high-profile political positions throughout the country - would not have to physically report to Petah Tikva. Instead, she proposed that members could send their votes by fax - a plan rejected by Eitan Haberman, Kadima's legal counsel. Meanwhile, the attacks against Olmert from within Kadima increased over the weekend. Kadima backbencher MK Shlomo Molla lashed out at the prime minister, saying "Olmert's candidacy in the primary would be an embarrassment to Kadima. It is urgent for us to establish an alternative government headed by Livni." Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit echoed Molla's comments during an interview on Channel 1, saying that it would be "very difficult" for Olmert to run as a candidate in the primary.