September 17, 2008
Tzipi Livni wins Kadima contest—now the real work begins
In the footsteps of Golda Meir
JERUSALEM (JTA) - With her decisive win in the Kadima party primary on Wednesday, Tzipi Livni's next major task will be assembling a coalition government so she can become prime minister.|
Then all she'll have on her plate is figuring out how to arrest the threat to Israel from Iran, resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a historic peace deal, neutralize the threat on Israel's northern border from Hezbollah and run the country.
If she ever gets to it.
The immediate challenge faced by Livni, until now the foreign minister, is piecing together a coalition that will hold without pulling her government in too many different directions. If she fails, Israel will be headed for new general elections.
In Wednesday's vote at 114 polling stations around the country, about 50 percent of Kadima's 74,000 members voted for party leader - relatively low turnout by Israeli standards. Even so, Livni complained of "congestion" at polling stations and argued for an extension of voting time by an hour. In a compromise, Kadima decided to extend voting by 30 minutes.
Exit polls showed Livni won about 48 percent of the vote, beating out her primary rival, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, by at least 10 points and avoiding a runoff by surpassing the 40 percent threshold. The two other contenders in the primary, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, garnered an estimated 7 percent each.
Livni's victory is historic in several respects. She won the first-ever primary held by Kadima, the three-year old political party founded by Ariel Sharon. Her election also brings an end to the Olmert era, though Ehud Olmert will stay on as caretaker prime minister until a coalition is assembled.
And once she puts together a coalition, Livni will become Israel's second female prime minister, following Golda Meir.
Livni will have 42 days to form a government. She has made it clear that she wants to base her new government on the existing coalition - Kadima, Labor, Shas and the Pensioners party -- with the possible addition of other parties like Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu on the right, Meretz from the left and the fervently Orthodox Torah Judaism party.
Livni wants to limit the current transition period, which she sees as a potentially unhealthy period of two-headed government. Olmert will continue as acting prime minister until Livni forms a new government.
Kadima leaders argue that there already is a functioning government and there is no reason it shouldn't continue its work. They maintain that all the Labor party asked Kadima to do was change its leader, and, now that Kadima has done that, continuing with the present coalition shouldn't be a problem.
But Livni's main coalition partners have no intention of giving her an easy ride. Labor argues that a prime minister effectively elected by only 18,000-20,000 Israelis has no legitimacy and that the Israeli people as a whole should be allowed to have their say in new elections.
Shas is also threatening new elections unless Livni meets its demands for more generous child allowances and a pledge to keep Jerusalem off the negotiating agenda with the Palestinians.
If Livni fails to form a coalition, there could be an election as early as next spring. If she succeeds, she could govern for a year or two before going into a new election with the incumbency advantage.
During the campaign, Livni gave a slew of interviews in which she spelled out her priorities:
She has a full agenda, a chance to change the tenor of Israel politics and to make historic moves vis-a-vis the Palestinians and Syria.
But first she will have to put together a viable coalition.