Opposition Likud party would win power in Israel, polls finds

Israel Materials 30 May 2008 16:28 (UTC +04:00)

With Israeli gripped by political uncertainty, polls published Friday showed that if new elections were held, the current opposition Likud Party would return to power, defeating the governing Kadima faction and its coalition ally, the Labour Party, reported dpa.

The poll, published in the Ma'ariv daily, also found that 48 per cent of the public wanted new elections, following pre-trail testimony this week that Kadima leader and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had received around 150,000 dollars in cash from a US businessman and fundraiser.

The testimony, by Morris Talansky, was given to the court before the investigation into Olmert's alleged corruption was complete, since prosecutors feared he would not return to Israel if and when the case comes to trial.

Olmert has maintained he used the money for election purposes, but a day after the testimony was given Defence Minister Ehud Barak, a member of the Labour Party, called on the prime minister to "detach" himself from the running of the country and on Kadima to choose a new leader.

The front-runner to replace Olmert as Kadima leader is Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who has denied coordinating any moves with Barak. The two share the same political strategic advisor.

According to the Ma'ariv poll, were elections held now, and Kadima led by Livni, the Likud would receive 30 of the Knesset's 120 seats, (as compared to the 12 seats it currently holds,) while Kadima would receive 25 seats, a loss of four mandates from its showing in the 2006 elections.

The Labour Party under Barak would receive 18 seats, one less than the 19 it won in 2006.

Should Kadima be led by current Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, who is believed to be Olmert's preferred choice for the party leadership, Likud would receive 31 seats and Kadima 18, with 21 going to the Labour Party.

A poll in the Yediot Ahronot daily showed that Livni is the preferred choice among Kadima members to lead the party, winning 39 per cent, to 25 per cent for Mofaz.

Senior Kadima official Tzahi Hanegbi said Friday he would convene the party leadership to decide on when to hold leadership primaries. Livni on Thursday broke her silence over the corruption allegations surrounding Olmert, and over Barak's call, to say that the party should prepare for any eventuality, including new elections.

Olmert has insisted he will not quit, but persistent reports in the Israeli media say he is trying to negotiate a face-saving exit, and would prefer Livni did not succeed him.

Relations between the two have cooled noticeably since May last year, when Livni called on Olmert to quit after he was scathingly criticised in an interim report on the government's conduct of the 2006 Lebanon War. However, she did not accompany her call with an ultimatum, and her revolt quickly fizzled out.

Barak meanwhile met with Labour Party activists Friday morning and said his party would compel Kadima to "straighten" its moral backbone.

The defence minister, who in the past faced an investigation into the funding of his victorious 1999 prime ministerial campaign, said the Labour Party leadership could offer the public "integrity, good judgement, seriousness and responsibility."