PM ally attempts to delay Kadima race

Appellant to 'Post': I did it to keep Olmert in power longer; Meir Sheetrit declares candidacy.

state-religion survey 224 (photo credit: )
state-religion survey 224
(photo credit: )
The Kadima chairmanship race was temporarily halted on Wednesday when the party's leadership decided to hold a re-vote in the Kadima council on whether the primary should be held, due to irregularities in the way the decision to hold it was approved last month. The re-vote will be held over the next few days due to a decision by the head of the Kadima house committee, MK Tzahi Hanegbi, and Kadima council chairman Meir Nitzan, at the request of the party's High Court, to accept a petition seeking to cancel the race. The petition was filed by Kadima activists David Schwartz and Hussein Suleiman. The re-vote is considered only a technical matter and is expected to pass easily. Suleiman, who is close to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said one of the main goals of his petition was to keep Olmert in office. "I want to give Olmert another few good months in power," Suleiman told The Jerusalem Post at a rally for Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, who is running to replace Olmert at the helm of Kadima. "I don't necessarily want the race canceled, just handled in a more organized way, and that can take time." Suleiman confirmed a Channel 1 report that Kadima candidates and ministers - and even ministers in Labor, where Suleiman used to be a member - had called him to pressure him to drop the petition. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the front-runner in the primary, invited Suleiman to her office on Tuesday, where she urged him to let the vote take place as scheduled on September 17 for the good of the party. Suleiman denied claims by Livni's office that he had come to support her. He said he backed Sheetrit and that one of the reasons for the petition was to give him more time to prepare for the primary. Sheetrit launched his campaign before a crowd of more than 200 party activists at Holon's Argaman wedding hall on Tuesday. Unlike the other candidates, who provided their audience with no more than beverages and cookies, Sheetrit treated his supporters to a catered gourmet chicken buffet dinner. In his speech to the crowd, Sheetrit vowed that if elected Kadima leader, he would change the electoral system to guarantee that every government would last a full term of four years without fear of getting toppled. He said he would make this a condition for joining his coalition, and that if not enough parties agreed, he would disperse the Knesset and go to an early election. Sheetrit spoke about his experience in the Knesset, where he is the longest-serving MK after Olmert, and in the cabinet, where he has held many different portfolios. He called on Kadima members to compare his accomplishments in the Justice Ministry to those of Livni when she held the job, and in the Transportation Ministry with its current minister, Kadima leadership candidate Shaul Mofaz. Singling out former IDF chief of General Staff Mofaz, Sheetrit said he did not believe that a prime minister had to be a former general. He attacked all three of his Kadima rivals for lacking his experience. "We can't elect a candidate who will have to learn on the job," Sheetrit said. "The country has been used for too many experiments. People without enough experience have jumped immediately to senior roles without learning and gaining experience over the years. We cannot gamble the fate of the country and the party." Spoofing the debate between Labor chairman Ehud Barak and Livni over who was better prepared to make a key decision at 3 a.m., Sheetrit said he would never have to make a decision at that hour if he became prime minister - he would take care of the problem before then. Sheetrit, who has been running in last place in the polls, behind Livni, Mofaz and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, pleaded with Kadima members not to pay attention to the surveys and to "candidates who have support only in the press." Sheetrit praised Negev and Galilee Development Minister Ya'acov Edri, who endorsed him despite the polls. Edri attended Tuesday's event along with 15 mayors. "Don't go after the polls," Sheetrit said. "Go after your hearts, not your heads." Meanwhile, at a rally for Kadima mayoral candidate Itamar Shimoni in Ashkelon, Livni told the crowd that in the debate over the 2009 state budget, politicians should put the good of the country before the party's interests. Dichter lashed out at Barak at the event. "Over the last few days, Kadima has been under attack," Dichter said. "Barak is worried, because he thought Kadima would disappear, but the primary will only strengthen the party."