Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke to Kadima's candidates for ministerial portfolios in a prospective Kadima-led government on Monday and asked them not to deal with the issue before the March 28 election.
If he wins the race, Olmert is expected to have a difficult time assigning portfolios because there are at least 16 Kadima officials who expect to be ministers. The list includes 10 current Kadima ministers, deputy minister Marina Solodkin, former ministers Shimon Peres, Dalia Itzik and Haim Ramon, and new candidates Avi Dichter and Uriel Reichman.
"I didn't promise anyone anything," Olmert said, according to one of the candidates. "We need to treat the election with respect and that means focusing solely on winning."
Kadima officials fear that reports that Olmert was already distributing portfolios could boomerang and harm the party on Election Day.
Nonetheless, Olmert's associates spoke openly on Monday about whom he intended to appoint. They said that no matter what parties join the coalition, if Olmert forms it, he would want to hold onto the Foreign Affairs, Finance and Defense portfolios.
But they said that, if Kadima were forced to give up one of the three major portfolios to Likud or Labor, it would be Defense and not Finance. They said that Olmert believed it was important that the ruling party control the Treasury, despite demands from Labor that had already been voiced.
Should Kadima keep the Defense portfolio, Shaul Mofaz is expected to maintain it, but he has received no promise from Olmert and sources in the Prime Minister's Office said the job might still go to Dichter. The only candidates who were promised portfolios by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon were Peres and Reichman.
Tourism Minister Avraham Hirchson, a longtime Olmert confidant, has the advantage over Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit for the Finance portfolio, even though Sheetrit briefly served as finance minister in 1999 and is ranked higher on the Kadima list.
Olmert's associates said that Construction, Housing, Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Ze'ev Boim, who is a childhood friend of Olmert, had the edge over Itzik to be Knesset Speaker. They said Itzik might return to the cabinet instead.
"We hope everyone who is a minister will continue to be a minister," Olmert's associates said.
In an interview with Army Radio Monday, Olmert declined to name names regarding who might be appointed ministers in the next government or which party he preferred to include in a coalition. Olmert said that Kadima, unlike previous new parties before it, would not be plagued by interpersonal problems after the election.
"We have a lot of experience with parties that are extraneous add-ons to the real centers of power," Olmert said. "Kadima, on the other hand, will in all likelihood be the biggest party and will be the real center of power in the country."