Likud proposes elections, but just for prime minister

MK Katz submits bill calling for special election within 60 days for a new PM.

yisrael katz 298 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
yisrael katz 298 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel could soon have an election for prime minister without replacing the Knesset if an initiative announced by Likud MK Yisrael Katz on Wednesday gains momentum. Katz submitted a bill calling for a special election within 60 days for a new prime minister, who would finish Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's term that is officially set to end in November 2010. The bill would require a special majority of 70 MKs to overthrow the new prime minister in order to stabilize the government. Direct elections for prime minister were eliminated shortly after Ariel Sharon defeated Ehud Barak in the only race in Israel's history that was only for the premiership. Katz said he came up with the idea because so many MKs are afraid of losing their jobs in a general election. "I would prefer a general election, but if the alternatives are Olmert staying in office or [Vice premier Shimon] Peres or [Foreign Minister Tzipi] Livni manipulating to take over, it's definitely better to give the people a chance to decide who the next prime minister will be right now," Katz said. Katz said such a move would be necessary because Olmert was not volunteering to leave the Prime Minister's Office, rebellions inside Kadima have not taken flight and former prime minister Ehud Barak disappointed him by not obligating himself to initiate an election if he won the Labor primary. According to Katz, Shas chairman Eli Yishai and MKs from Kadima, Israel Beiteinu and the Gil Pensioners Party have all expressed support for the idea. Polls have shown that every party in the coalition would fare poorly if a general election were held. Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu's spokesman said he was only interested in a general election. But Likud officials said holding an election for prime minister now would help Netanyahu because he would almost certainly be up against new leaders in both Labor and Kadima. Holding a special election for prime minister could cause problems for Labor if Barak wins the Labor primary because the race might be limited to current Knesset members. Katz said he would favor enacting additional legislation to allow Barak to run. Olmert's associates dismissed the initiative, saying that anyone who wanted Netanyahu to be prime minister should vote for it. Former coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki said Katz's initiative proved that it was urgent for steps to be taken inside Kadima to replace Olmert before elections were forced on the party that could remove it from power. Another Kadima MK said he would welcome any initiative that could force Olmert out. To that end, Likud MK Silvan Shalom will meet with Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef on Thursday to ask him for help in toppling the prime minister. The Kadima MK said that Barak's call for Olmert to quit in his press conference on Tuesday was encouraging. Channel 10 reported that Olmert was "boiling mad" at Barak and that he was surprised by the severity of Barak's call for him to quit. Former minister Eitan Cabel said he hoped Barak would go farther in his criticism of Olmert when Labor holds its central committee meeting on May 18. A Dahaf Institute poll published in Yediot Aharonot found that 55 percent of Labor members wanted the party to remain in Olmert's government and only 32% favored leaving the coalition. The poll found that Barak would win the first round of voting on May 28 and lose a run-off race two weeks later to MK Ami Ayalon. In a speech on Wednesday, Ayalon slammed Barak for withdrawing Israel from Lebanon unilaterally.