Could Tzipi Livni become Israel’s first woman PM since Golda Meir?
Ehud Olmert, mired in corruption allegations, announced earlier this week that he would not contest September’s Kadima leadership primary. With a weak mandate to start with (just 29 seats and 22% of the vote in 2006), the Lebanon war, unpopularity to rival Gordon Brown’s, and the recent investigations, he will leave office as one of the shortest-serving PMs since the creation of Israel in 1948, although should his efforts in the peace process eventually bear fruit, history may smile on him a little more kindly than seems likely at present.
The stage is thus set for what is effectively a straight fight to succeed Olmert at the helm of Kadima between Tzipi Livni, currently Foreign Minister, and Shaul Mofaz, who holds the Transport portfolio. There are two other candidates in the shape of Avi Dichter (Internal Security) and Meir Sheetrit (Interior) but unless there is a dramatic change, they are unlikely to get much of a look-in. Livni is the frontrunner, but Mofaz cannot be written off, and although I have not seen any betting markets, I’d suggest an opening “tissue” of Livni 8/11, Mofaz evens, and 14/1 bar, should any market-makers be reading.
Livni has a backstory rather more interesting than most British politicians, having both served in Mossad and the Israel Defense Forces, as well as a decade’s experience in practising law. She was first elected to the Knesset in 1999 for Likud, and held ministerial posts in the Sharon administration from 2001 onwards, subsequently following Sharon into the new Kadima (“Forward”) party. Livni is seen as relatively more dovish compared to the more hardline Mofaz, who has talked about the possibility of bringing Likud into the coalition should he win the primary. Livni has generally scored better than Mofaz among potential Kadima leaders in public polling.
Golda Meir served as Prime Minister from 1969-74, seeing the country through the Yom Kippur war. If Livni is to also succeed to the premiership, she has two hurdles to clear. The Kadima leadership primary will go to a second ballot if needed, meaning that the preferences of the defeated candidates and their supporters could play an important role. If victorious, there’s the small matter of trying to form a new government.
Labor seem likely to want to remain in office, with less chance of them being part of a coalition if Likud come to power, and the pensioners’ party Gil would probably want to continue the government too. The biggest stumbling block could be Shas with 12 seats – if they decide to “pull the plug” it could be very difficult to put a new government together, if not impossible. The new Kadima leader will have until 26th October, plus a further 90 days if needed, to form a new coalition – after which point, new elections, and Likud under Benjamin Netanyahu, are waiting.
New Zealand (election date TBC, 15 November latest):
Austria (election 28 September)
International polling from Angus Reid