Would have sworn it wouldn’t happen and it has: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has announced that after Kadima elects a new leader in its September 17 primary, he will resign from office to give his successor a chance to form a new coalition.
Originally he had said that he would only step down if the newly elected head of Kadima succeeded in forming a new government and there were not going to be elections. This sounds different.
Olmert went on to protest his innocence with regard to the investigations in process now, and vowed to vigorously defend himself. My own take is that he smells an indictment coming and saw this as the graceful way to bow out.
The process that will unfold after his resignation:
The resignation of the prime minister includes the resignation of his entire government. President Shimon Peres will then consult with various political factions in the Knesset and charge the head of one with attempting to form a new government.
It is assumed that this person will be the newly elected head of Kadima, but this is not a given. As to who will head Kadima: Livni and Mofaz are both furiously vying for the position, with Olmert, who at this point despises Livni, working as he can to help Mofaz come out ahead. Others are also in the running but with smaller showings in the polls.
That person, whoever it will be, will have 28 days to put together a stable government; if he deems it appropriate, Peres can extend the time by 14 days.
If the selected faction head still cannot put together a coalition, then Peres will select another MK heading another faction to make the same effort to form a coalition.
There are predictions — about which I will not comment here — that forming a stable coalition with the current makeup of the Knesset will not be easy.
If no coalition is formed, the nation goes to elections, to be held within 90 days. Then after elections, a coalition must be formed to create a stable government — and it can assumed that the head of the faction that secured the most mandates would be given the first opportunity to do this.
It must be noted that, even though Defense Minister Barak is head of the Labor faction, he cannot be chosen to form a coalition now because he doesn’t currently sit in the Knesset.
With regard to elections, polls show that head of the opposition, Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud), is the public’s first choice. Netanyahu has been quiet of late, waiting for a process to unfold. He undoubtedly is smiling tonight. If, as predicted, his party were to come out ahead in an election, he would be chosen to form the next government.
Two brief political observations here:
Netanyahu and Barak have held some consultations of late, presumably about defense issues, with Barak briefing Netanyahu. But it is being speculated — and it is just speculation at this point — that there may be some sort of political cooperation coming down the road. This would mean Netanyahu was moving his supposedly centrist-right party left, but we’ll need to see how things unfold.
What adds to this speculation is the fact that Uzi Dayan has just announced he was joining the Likud party and was promised a leadership role. On the basis of his political positions, I would have expected Dayan to go with Labor. This was a surprise. Dayan had formed the Tafnit party, which has a strong social agenda, but did not pass the electoral threshold for gaining a seat in the last election; presumably Tafnit backers would now support Likud.
Seems Netanyahu is already building his coalition.
If head of a political faction does succeed in putting together a new government within the allotted time, Olmert continues to run a caretaker government until that new government is in place. If the nation goes to elections, Olmert heads a caretaker government even longer — until after the elections and the establishment of a coalition.
And so we’ll be seeing his face for some time yet, in spite of this announcement. The question remains as to how much damage he can do in his lame-duck position. Particularly is this the case with regard to negotiations with the PA.
MK Aryeh Eldad (NU/NRP), speaking after Olmert’s press conference, said that Olmert was “the most failure-ridden and corrupt leader in Israel’s history.”
The fact that Olmert would be resigning his position in a few weeks’ time, Eldad said, was “the only good news Olmert managed to supply in his time in office.”
Sadly for our nation, there is enormous truth to this.