Olmert okays holding Kadima primaries

Move may signal end of political career; Hanegbi: Vote before Talansky's cross-examination unlikely.

olmert cabinet 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert cabinet 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may have initiated the end of his political career on Wednesday afternoon when he gave the authorization necessary for a primary in Kadima to replace him. The prime minister revealed his decision in a meeting with the head of Kadima's steering committee, MK Tzahi Hanegbi, and coalition chairman Eli Aflalo. "The prime minister instructed us to act quickly to set primaries in Kadima. The process has started running." Hanegbi said. Hanegbi will convene the Kadima faction next week to continue the process now that it has received the necessary authorization from Olmert. However, Hanegbi said he didn't expect the primary to be held before the July 17 cross-examination of New York financier Morris Talansky in the illicit funding investigation against the prime minister. Labor secretary-general Eitan Cabel expressed satisfaction with Olmert's authorization, saying that "a green light for a primary is already a good thing." MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) was displeased with Olmert's move. "It is another stinking maneuver intended to avoid elections and stick to his seat while telling citizens and the state to go to hell," he said. The change of heart for Olmert happened after Public Security Minister Avi Dichter released a statement clarifying his opinion in favor of initiating a primary. His associates said that he had been misinterpreted by Hanegbi when he told the press last week that he was against starting the primary process before Talansky's cross-examination. "The primary should be no later than the beginning of September," Dichter told Hanegbi on Tuesday. "The date for the primary should be decided by July." Olmert's opinion was also apparently affected by the growing support in the Knesset for Likud MK Silvan Shalom's bill to disperse the Knesset and initiate an election in November. Meretz endorsed the bill on Tuesday, giving it the support of 74 MKs. Labor officials said the only way they would vote against the bill was if Olmert agreed to initiate a primary. Labor's 19 MKs could prevent the bill from passing when it comes to a preliminary reading in the Knesset next Wednesday. Hanegbi stressed on Wednesday that if Labor doesn't wait until the end of the process of setting the Kadima primary, there will be no choice but to go to early elections. A high-ranking Shas official said Tuesday that Shalom's bill would be delayed by a week "for a hundred different reasons" and only voted on June 25. Shalom has expressed a willingness to delay the vote by a week to obtain Shas's support.