Labor Chair Candidates Call for Postponement of Primaries

Mazal Mualem
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Mazal Mualem

The ever-increasing reports of serious irregularities in the Labor's recent membership drive have led two candidates for the party's chairman, former prime minister Ehud Barak and Minister without Portfolio Matan Vilnai, to call for a delay of the primaries, one week before they are scheduled to take place. Candidate Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, minister of national infrustructures has called for a comprehensive examination of the drive, which he also said might result in a delaying of the primaries.

The new director general of the Labor Party, MK Eitan Cabel, said last night that only after he receives results of a sample of registrations examined by retired judge Sarah Frisch, would a decision be made on the matter. But sources in Labor say that considering the public storm raised by the widespread allegations of wrongdoing, there will be no choice but to delay the primaries.

"Every case of corruption must be reported to the police without delay. We will not tolerate any instances of corruption," incumbent party chairman Vice Premier Shimon Peres said yesterday.

Peres, who is ranked first in the polls and has stayed out of the fray, has come out against a delay in the primaries. However, some sources say he actually is in favor of a delay, which would allow him to keep his position as chairman for another few months.

Advisors to candidate and Histadrut labor federation director MK Amir Peretz said a week ago they believed that as the polls began to show a strengthening of his position, the other candidates, whose support was weakening, would call for a delay of the primaries, set to take place next Tuesday.

Barak, Vilnai and Ben-Eliezer are forming a bloc against Peretz, pointing a finger at the practices his faction allegedly used to sign up new members for the party. "They will do anything to delay the primaries," Peretz said yesterday in response.

Peretz is said to have the greatest interest in the primaries taking place on their original date. The polls favor him to make it to a two-man runoff, he has signed up tens of thousands of new party members, and his activists are well organized.

Until a few days ago, Vilnai had been among the strongest voices for holding primaries as soon as possible, pitted against Vice Premier Shimon Peres. Source question whether the stand favoring delay he took a few days ago is related to the fact that his support in the polls is plummeting.

In recent days, Vilnai has been in close contact with Barak, who called a press conference yesterday to publicly express support for delaying the primaries.

Although Barak had declared in recent months that he favored holding the primaries on schedule, he is said to have been working unceasingly behind the scenes to have them put off, since he has not been able to sufficiently improve his power base in the party.

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