Leadership battle for Kadima begins

Kadima MK: "Trying to draft support to take over leadership would cause a backlash within the party."

kadima 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
kadima 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Although some of Kadima's top ministers seemed Sunday to show initial signs of positioning to take over the troubled party, Kadima rank-and-file said that none of the top-ranked members of the party had begun to actively build blocs of support. While some Kadima MKs attributed the disorganization to an absence of leadership ability on the part of the party's top officials, others chalked up the lack of active bloc formation to a pragmatic decision made by each one of the would-be leaders. "It's not in interest of any of the leaders to try and enlist support, because if it didn't work out, then other party members would say that they were preempting the trial. Trying to draft support to take over the leadership would cause a strong backlash within the party," said one Kadima MK. The MK did, however, acknowledge that the current scandal surrounding Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had resulted in serious damage to Kadima's public image. Nevertheless, he said, the current mood in the party was one of sitting and waiting for a legal decision - such as an indictment - to force the party's hand in finding a new leader. The only politicking, in fact, said one Kadima official, was being carried out by Olmert's staff. With a handful of plum positions still up for grabs within the government, some Kadima MKs could be easily persuaded to maintain support for the embattled prime minister with promises of appointments after the smoke clears. None of the Kadima members who spoke with The Jerusalem Post Sunday thought that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni would be allowed to slide in to the party's top position without stiff opposition in party primaries. Livni remained the only key Kadima minister to keep quiet on the issue of support for Olmert, maintaining silence during Sunday's cabinet meeting. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, one of Livni's likely opponents to lead the party, spoke out in support of Olmert for the first time as he entered the cabinet meeting. "The right of innocence until proven guilty applies to the prime minister as it applies to every other citizen. His statement on Thursday night was very clear," said Mofaz, who is rumored - together with Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit - to be jockeying for primaries in the party should Olmert be forced to step down. Mofaz, while not denying that he supported primaries in the even that Olmert be forced to step down, rejected rumors that he was working to promote primaries prior to that date. "There is no need for Kadima to speed up processes," said Mofaz. "Diplomatic issues take precedence to everything, and we need to allow the prime minister to continue to manage national matters." Sheetrit, too, offered his support for the prime minister, complimenting Olmert's Thursday night statement as "fair and appropriate under the circumstances." According to the party's bylaws, primaries are the only way in which the Kadima's leader may be selected. But unlike among current Kadima MKs, Livni is not as likely a victor among Kadima Party members as a whole - who sent a clear message of support for Olmert during a flashy Sunday evening rally at Kadima's Petah Tikva headquarters. It is the same Kadima field activists who rallied in support of Olmert who are likely to hold Livni's silence against her, particularly when coupled with her criticism of Olmert in the wake of the publication of the Winograd Committee's interim report. Outside of Kadima, coalition members also refused to publicly consider various scenarios for the "day after" Olmert. Ro'i Lachmanovitz, spokesman for Shas Chairman Eli Yishai, said that Yishai was not interested in speculations that Livni could replace Olmert as PM. "Eli is not concerning himself with such things," said Lachmanovitz. "First Kadima has to make the decision whether Olmert will continue as PM. Only after they have decided to choose someone else will we begin discussing the ramifications. But right now nobody is talking about the issue." Sources in Shas have expressed concern over Livni's stance on church-state issues. In addition, Livni is viewed as more aggressively supportive of territorial compromises in exchange for peace with the Palestinians. Shas has said on numerous occasions that any negotiations with the Palestinians on territorial compromise by Olmert's government would trigger Shas's immediate resignation from the coalition. At the Sunday cabinet meeting, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, also viewed as a key player in possible primaries, expressed concern that ministers not attack the police for their investigation of Olmert, even as they defended his party's chief. Olmert - who has emphasized his willingness to cooperate with police since the investigation was made public - reiterated in response that he did "not cast any dispersions on the work of the police and the prosecution."