Despite Labor's decision to allow its members to abstain, the coalition managed to secure a landslide majority in three no-confidence votes yesterday. Meanwhile, Ehud Barak is contemplating joining Olmert's cabinet.
Between 60 and 62 MKs supported the government in the no-confidence votes, with only 26 to 28 voting against the government. Eight Labor MKs were not present during the vote. While this may reflect a significant rift within the ranks of the coalition to which Labor belongs, it is estimated that at least some of the abstainees and absentees will not repeat their behavior in future no-confidence votes. This, in light of the fact that yesterday's motions were the first no-confidence votes after the release of the Winograd Committee's interim report concerning the government's failings during the Second Lebanon War.
Following yesterday's no-confidence votes, Chair of the Likud Faction, MK Gideon Sa'ar, initiated a new motion aimed at embarrassing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He is now making progress in obtaining the signatures of 40 MKs, which, according to law, would require Olmert's attendance in a discussion on "the prime minister's refusal to resign following the Winograd report."
If Sa'ar manages to collect 40 signatures, then Olmert will indeed be forced to attend the discussion. Sa'ar claims that he has so far collected signatures from members of the coalition, as well as from the opposition. So far, Olmert has refrained from addressing the report before the plenum.
While opposition chair MK Benjamin Netanyahu and MK Ran Cohen (Meretz) both lambasted Olmert before the plenum and called for his resignation, MK Avraham Ravitz (United Torah Judaism) expressed unexpected support for the prime minister. He accused the protesters against Olmert of slighting the sacrifice that the bereaved families had made.
Labor's decision to allow its members to abstain and not attend today's no-confidence votes reflects an internal victory for most of the candidates for the party's chair in the upcoming primaries. MKs Ami Ayalon, Ophir Pines-Paz and Danny Yatom all supported allowing their Labor colleagues full personal discretion on whether to attend the vote and whether to abstain or vote against the no-confidence motions.
Coalition chair MK Tzachi Hanegbi said that their decision to abstain or not attend did not damage the coalition in any case. "It's completely insignificant, bordering on gossip, really," he said.
All in all, only eight Labor MKs made use of their prerogative to abstain or not attend. These were Avishay Braverman, Matan Vilnai, Shelly Yachimovich, Eitan Cabel and Michael Melchior, in addition to Ayalon, Pines-Paz and Yatom.
Another contender for the Labor party chair, Ehud Barak, is currently weighing the prospect of joining Olmert's cabinet. A recent survey performed by Barak's staff within the ranks of the Labor party revealed that most party members were not opposed to Labor's cohabitation with Olmert's Kadima in the coalition under Olmert's direction. The survey also revealed that most members would prefer to see the issue resolved only after the primaries, scheduled for the end of the month. In addition, most party members were opposed to early elections.
However, several of Barak's associates have said that he had told them he was averse to joining the government, in light of the severity of the Winograd report on its performance.
For the time being, some of his associates are warning him against committing to not joining the government. They cite what Barak already knows: if he wins the primaries, then a ministerial position would help him in the next general elections against Netanyahu.
Barak has declined to comment on whether he would indeed join Olmert's cabinet.
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