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Two Former Military Commanders Running Neck And Neck In Labor Party Leader Election

Large Number Of Floating Voters Likely To Decide Whether A Winner Or Runoff

Incumbent Leader Amir Peretz: 'The Polls Are Wrong Again, Don 't Count Me Out'

Ami Ayalon | Ehud Barak

In the Labor party race for new party leader, two top retired military commanders are leading the pack. According to opinion polls, Gen.(ret.) Ehud Barak and Admiral(ret.) Ami Ayalon are virtually tied before the May 28th ballot. IsraCast says a large number of Laborites are still undecided and their votes will likely decide the outcome. However the question is can either Ayalon or Barak win by passing the 40% threshold or will the two top candidates have to compete in a runoff. The incumbent Defense Minister Amir Peretz is not giving up declaring that last time the polls proved wrong when they predicted he would lose to Shimon Peres.

:: IsraCast Audio ::

General Ehud Barak and Admiral Ami Ayalon are running neck and neck as the Labor Party leadership race enters the home-stretch. More than one-hundred thousand Laborites are facing a tough choice and the two front-runners may have to face a runoff.

Amir Peretz (Photo: Amit Shabi)

The latest opinion polls give both front-runners some 30% in the May 28th ballot. But a minimum of 40% is needed to win - otherwise the two top candidates will have to compete in a runoff. What does appear certain is that the incumbent, Defense Minister Amir Peretz is on his way out. Peretz, and MKs Offir Paz and Danny Yatom trail far behind. But Peretz, the former feisty trade union boss, recalls his stunning party victory over Shimon Peres, declaring: 'I lose opinion polls but win elections!' One hundred and thirteen thousand Labor party members are eligible to vote and a high turnout is expected. But if Barak fails to win on the first ballot with the necessary 40% , Ayalon is favored to win the runoff. Peretz is expected to urge his supporters to vote for Ayalon the second time around. Although Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has stayed out of Labor's internal election, there is no question that he is rooting for Barak who would become defense minister in the cabinet.

After the glaring ineptitude of both Peretz and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in conducting the Second Lebanon War, military experience has become a must for political leadership. Barak, a former PM and IDF Chief of Staff, obviously has it as does Ayalon, a former Israel Navy commander and chief of the Israel Security Agency. Although Ayalon lacks senior political experience, never having served in a cabinet post, he makes up for it with a sterling record. The former commander of the highly vaunted Naval Commandos (Seals) is considered a man of the highest integrity having dedicated his life to the service of the state. But his lack of political savvy surfaced when he first said he would not quit the Olmert government only to change his mind the next day. Ayalon sources now say the issue should be decided after the election in line with the party's position. The polls also show that a majority of Laborites are opposed to bolting the government at this time. On this score, Barak has boycotted the media steering clear of hard and fast declarations he might later regret. The former PM has been trying hard to live down his image as an arrogant, know-it-all who led Labor to a disastrous defeat against the Likud's Ariel Sharon in 2001. Many Israelis are also critical of Barak's 'time-out' from politics to make millions in the U.S. On the political level, many of Barak's critics accuse him of making reckless concessions to Yasser Arafat at Camp David saying Israel was lucky Arafat never took them.

Laborites are on the horns of a dilemma. On one hand they are tempted to elect Ami Ayalon, the ultimate patriot - even his opponents have nothing but praise. In a political culture riven with sleaze these days, this is a big temptation. But on the other hand, Ayalon is a political rookie and this is what Barak is counting on. He is telling Laborites: 'Let bygones be bygones; the name of the game is who can beat the Likud's Bibi Netanyahu. I beat Bibi before and I can do it again.'

That is why many Laborites are facing a tough choice and why the Labor party primary election is so tough to call.

David Essing

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