Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Labor Party Primaries
As many expected, the Labor Party primaries did not yield a clear winner in the first round. At the end of the day, with a 65% turnout among party members, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak received 34%, while upstart Ami Ayalon finished with 32% of the votes. Defense Minister and current party leader Amir Peretz came in third with 22% - a relatively high number considering all that has happened.
The run-off, which will take place in a month, pits Barak against Ayalon. Barak is the more experienced politician and the man with more funds to dispense, while Ayalon can claim the mantle of reform, with Avishai Braverman at his side. Both candidates have solid security credentials. Barak, who served in the Sayeret Matkal, is one of Israel's most decorated soldiers and a former chief of staff; Ayalon, who served in the Shayetet 13 naval commando unit, is a former commander of the navy and a retired director of the Shin Bet. While Barak might be vulnerable to critiques of his unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon as well as his reforms of the army (to which Hazbani alluded earlier), Ayalon lacks experience as a policy-maker.
Until the next round, we are in for a month of backroom deals by these candidates, as they jockey to enlist the support of Peretz's people and the supporters of the other candidates. Here, Barak is probably in a better position than Ayalon. While the latter seems to have won the votes of the kibbutzim and Tel Aviv members, Barak might have an easier time getting the Peretz camp to vote for him - despite his association with the moneyed elite. One thing that Barak has going for him is the fact that he has been very equivocal about leaving the Olmert government, whereas Ayalon has been very critical of the Prime Minister since the Winograd report. Most of the Labor Party members want to avoid elections. They want appointments and a role in the current government; and they are more likely to trust Barak to deliver them than the undiplomatic Ayalon.
Even if Ayalon wins, however, the Labor Party will probably remain in the Olmert government after all - unless of course something very dramatic happens. A whole month is a long time for things to remain as they are.
One matter that is confusing me at the moment is the portfolio most likely to be assigned to the eventual leader of the Labor Party. It seems that the Peretz supporters want the party to claim the Finance Ministry, to finally implement the social agenda on which Peretz ran in the first place. But Barak would surely prefer the Defense Ministry.