Israeli president meets with political leaders over new government

Israeli President Shimon Peres met with political leaders Monday to consult with them on who to charge with forming a new government in the wake of the resignation Sunday of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, dpa reported.

The president, who by law has to consult with the heads of all Knesset factions before tasking a legislator with forming a new coalition, already met Sunday night with representatives of parties in the current coalition and on Monday morning parleyed with right- wing opposition factions.

Peres is expected to announce his decision Monday night. Under Israeli law, the consultation process can last one week, but Peres has adopted an expedited timetable as he is due to leave to attend the United Nations General Assembly session in New York.

Although the president is widely expected to give the nod to current Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who last week replaced Olmert as leader of the ruling Kadima party, legislators representing only 38 of the 120 Knesset members recommended her, Israeli news media reported.

The right-wing parties who Peres met Monday morning recommended holding new elections, while the Israel Labour Party, Kadima's largest current coalition partner, said the president should appoint party leader Ehud Barak, even though this would mean changing the law as the Labour leader is not a sitting legislator.

Livni met with Barak Sunday night, and reportedly promised him a "full partnership" in any government she sets up.

Barak, who has spoken out in favour of a national emergency government which would presumably also include the right-wing opposition Likud Party, is understood to wanting Livni to commit to a government which would last two years, as his price for sitting in a government with her.

Analysts explained that Barak is wary that Livni would set up a government which would quickly go to new elections, with her as sitting prime minister.

Under Israeli law, the person charged with forming a government has 42 days to set up a coalition, after which the president can either give the task to another legislator, or new elections must be held within 90 days.

Until a new government is sworn in, Olmert, who resigned due to police investigations against him for alleged corruption, remains the head of a caretaker government.

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