Sharon, Peretz mull election date

PM to meet Peretz to discuss advancing elections; may be held in February.

amir peretz 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
amir peretz 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants the next general election to be held as soon as possible after Histadrut Chairman Amir Peretz defeated Vice Premier Shimon Peres in Wednesday's Labor Party leadership race, his associates said Thursday. Sharon is expected to meet with Peretz at the prime minister's office in Tel Aviv on Thursday to discuss the possibility of jointly presenting a bill to advance the election to an agreed-upon date. They are expected to recommend holding the election in March or perhaps even in February. Sources close to Sharon said there was no point in extending the tenure of a government already suffering from a rebellion in the Likud now that Labor is led by Peretz, who promised in his campaign to break up Sharon's national unity government. "The main reason for keeping the government together until now was passing the 2006 state budget, but there is no chance that Peretz will let it pass," one Sharon associate said. "We might as well go to elections now to run against Peretz." Rather than initiating the election by visiting President Moshe Katsav, Sharon is expected to advance the race by passing a bill in the Knesset. Such a bill would likely be supported by nearly every faction. "In my meeting with Sharon, the main issue will be to try to reach an agreement on a date for the election, but if we can't, we will have to find a way to reach a majority for it in the Knesset," Peretz told reporters who accompanied him on a visit to Yitzhak Rabin's grave. Sharon's associates said that he was excited about the prospects of facing off in the election against a candidate with no diplomatic experience and "extreme views on diplomatic and socioeconomic issues." Sharon called Peretz to congratulate him, and called Peres to express his condolences. Sources close to Peres said he was seriously considering leaving the Labor Party and forming a new party together with Sharon and other top Likud and Labor officials. But Sharon's associates said that if he decides to leave the Likud, he would not be interested in having Peres on the list. "The reserved slot on the list for an old man is already taken," a Sharon adviser said bluntly. The prime minister will have to decide over the next few days whether he intends to run in the Likud or form a new party. The Likud secretariat will meet next week to start preparations for the election. Sharon already started preparing for his run against Peretz by declaring a "war on poverty" in a speech at the Prime Minister's Conference for Exports and International Cooperation in Tel Aviv. Finance Minister Ehud Olmert told reporters at the event that he saw no reason for Labor to leave the coalition, and he warned Peretz against "stooping to populism." Former finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu called Peretz and told him that he was impressed by the determination he showed in the race. Sources close to Netanyahu said that Peretz's victory was helpful for him because now the election will focus on economic issues.