Poll: Livni would beat Netanyahu, Barak

Survey shows FM would get 27 seats, Likud 23, Labor 15; 59 percent: Olmert should leave office immediately.

livni olmert cabinet 298 (photo credit: AP)
livni olmert cabinet 298
(photo credit: AP)
Even as Kadima ministers continued to position themselves for the possibility of party primaries, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni - shown by a recent poll to be the party's clear frontrunner - kept a sense of diplomatic business-as-usual Monday, maintaining a determined silence on domestic issues, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's investigation. Livni spent the afternoon meeting with European Union representatives and later with Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. She repeatedly refused reporters' attempts to ask her about her position in Kadima. Despite her silence - viewed by many to be an indirect way of criticizing Olmert - she remained virtually untouchable at the Kadima support rally held Sunday night, where even Olmert's most fervent supporters were unwilling to publicly criticize her. Livni's position was further reinforced Monday, after a poll published by Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot indicated that if she were to replace Olmert as Kadima's leader, she would win an election against the Likud led by Binyamin Netanyahu and the Labor Party led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak. According to the poll, the public considers Livni to be the most appropriate figure in Kadima to replace Olmert should the prime minister resign. More significantly, the poll's results cast Livni as Kadima's only current hope of winning in any upcoming round of elections. With Livni leading Kadima, the party would receive 27 seats in the Knesset, with 23 for Likud and 15 for Labor. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz would garner 17 seats as head of the party and Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit would bring in 13. Despite his less-than-encouraging showing, Sheetrit continued to maintain that he believed himself to be a viable contender to lead Kadima. Meanwhile, days before the opening of the Knesset's summer session, two representatives of opposition parties at opposite ends of the political spectrum announced that they were drafting a law that would enable the Knesset to force a prime minister to suspend himself. MK Zevulun Orlev (NU-NRP) and MK Yossi Beilin (Meretz) have proposed that MKs with a majority of 61 votes could force out a sitting prime minister for a period of 150 days. Currently, the only way in which a prime minister can be suspended is either through his own initiative or at the behest of the attorney-general. Neither of those situations are deemed likely Olmert's case prior to the drafting of an indictment against him. Beilin said Monday that Olmert is too absorbed in the investigations to take upon himself the responsibility for complex diplomatic affairs as well, a situation that would justify a temporary suspension. But after spending the early afternoon side-by-side with Livni, Olmert's likely successor, European Union Ambassador to Israel Ramiro Cibrián-Uzal expressed confidence in Olmert's value as a negotiating partner. "What we, as the EU, always like to see in Israel is a government committed to the peace process, and Olmert is just that," he said. "I am confident that in any event, the Israeli people will continue to put into office leaders who support the peace process." According to the Basic Law: The Government, should Olmert resign from office as a result of the current investigation, the government automatically resigns with him. The president then has seven days to consult with leaders of the various factions in the Knesset to determine who has the best chance of forming a new government that will win the Knesset's confidence. It can be assumed that Kadima, which is still the largest party in the Knesset and has managed over the past two years to assemble a coalition majority, will have the best chance to form a new government. But then the question remains as to who among the leaders of Kadima the president would ask to form a new government. There are, apparently, two possibilities. According to the Kadima articles of association, the members of the party must vote in a primary to choose the party chairman. The regulations state that the primary must be held within a period of 60-90 days before an election. It does not take into account a situation in which a government must be formed without new elections. Since, in the current situation, the president will have to assign an MK to form a new government within seven days of the resignation of the outgoing one, Kadima will have to hold primaries on extremely - perhaps impossibly - short notice. Another possibility is that the Kadima Knesset faction will decide that because of the extenuating circumstances in this case, it will vote to make a temporary amendment in the party regulations by empowering itself to elect the party leader, a move that can obviously be done in a short amount of time. If the faction does decide to do so, the proposal will have to be approved by the party council, the broad decision-making institution of the party. The council includes the first 70 people on Kadima's slate of candidates for the 2006 elections, Kadima Party heads of local authorities and other senior figures. It is apparently the choice between these two options that is creating tension in the party today between Sheetrit and Mofaz, two would-be Olmert successors, and Livni. Sheetrit and Mofaz insist on holding primaries. Apparently, they believe their strength lies in the party rank-and-file. Livni has not made any public statements on the matter so far.